On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama gave the first State of the Union address of his second term in office.
While Obama did discuss issues such as the federal debt, immigration reform and the status of the U.S. economy, the address focused primarily on education and gun control, which has galvanized the nation since the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting that left 27 dead.
“Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun,” Obama said in his address.
Michael Heaney, an assistant professor of organizational studies and political science, said the strategy of pushing for a vote on gun control within the speech without a specifically partisan slant will likely advance Obama’s legislative goals.
“Probably the most effective part of the speech was where he said, 'They deserve a vote,' and he kept repeating that,” Heaney said. “That’s a really smart strategy because he’s not saying, ‘You’re a Republican, and you have to support these measures that you don’t agree with.’”
Heaney added that because the American people are mostly in favor of more stringent gun restrictions, he believes the proposed measures are passable.
“The reason why that is a particularly effective strategy is that is has the prospect of forcing all these people in Congress to basically go on the record and vote against what would be fairly popular measures,” Heaney said.
During the speech, Obama also rallied for Democrats and Republicans to bring together in order to build the economy.
“The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue,” Obama said. “But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party.”
In an interview after the address, Congressman John Dingell (D–Mich.) agreed that in order for the country to develop, there needs to be more bipartisanship in congress.
“It’s time for us to put aside this absolutely asinine and vicious partisanship that we’ve got and to buckle down and to start working together in the better interest of our country,” Dingell said. “And I think that’s something that Americans desperately want.”
Obama also emphasized that the United States needs to lessen its dependence on foreign energy. He proposed items such as the Energy Security Trust to invest in research into alternative forms of energy.
“Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race,” Obama said. “Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.”
Obama added that investment in education will be an important factor in the economic stability of the country and proposed universal preschool.
“Every dollar we invest in high-quality early education can save more than seven dollars later on – by boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime,” Obama said.
Obama also said he wants to redesign high schools to better prepare graduates for the high-tech job market, in addition to continually working to make college more affordable.
Craig Ruff, a lecturer in the Public Policy school, said he was surprised that the president discussed investment in higher education considering there haven't been significant federal strides in that area in the past.
“The president staked out a new purpose for the federal government, one we’ve never seen before — that was to provide an affordable and valuable higher education experience,” Ruff said.
However, Ruff said he feels that any attempts to make college more affordable won’t have a purpose if the job market doesn’t improve first.
“We are producing, every year, extraordinary talent among high-school graduates, community college graduates, college graduates, bachelor’s graduates, MBAs — and that’s all well and good, but what jobs will they fill?” Ruff said.
While it remains to be seen how much of Obama's agenda will result in policy, Dingell said he is proud of the president’s speech.
“He is judged by his success, but he’s also judged by his leadership.” Dingell said. “The people heard, and I’m satisfied they approved what he said. And I intend to do anything I can to assist him to accomplish his purposes.”
—Follow Danielle Raykhinshteyn on Twitter at @dannierayh.