The 2011 State of the Union speech delivered by President Barack Obama was different than previous State of the Unions from the start. For the first time, a republican sat behind Obama during a joint-session of congress. Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, sat beside Vice President Joe Biden. This gesture was intended to encourage a cooperative, bipartisan attitude, specifically in light of the recent Tucson shooting. With 20 injuries, six fatal, the country saw fit to band together for this speech.
Obama’s speech focused on the importance of bipartisanship and that the significance is “not whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.” It’s no secret that the Democratic and Republican parties have a history of conflict, but similar issues have arisen in overly passive, bi-partisanship.
This follows United States history — since George Washington, presidents have addressed the population about the state of the union, according to Robert Longley’s “Brief History of the State of the Union Address.” Franklin Roosevelt was the first President who started calling this message the “State of the Union” address. Beginning with FDR, modern presidents utilized this time to report of the state of the union, but more importantly to enhance their political agenda, heal old political wounds and promote unity in the Congress.
Though consistent with political history, Knox students are still skeptical about Obama’s call to bipartisanship. “It is a nice idea but conflict is where progress comes from,” says freshman Amanda Axley. Axley says that it is unrealistic to expect people with such different beliefs to concede in the name of cooperation. With such harsh differences, concession in order to appease the opposing party has been prevalent throughout history.
Obama also said, “Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater — something more consequential than party or political preference.” To a certain extent this is true, argues Axley, but it is not that simple. There are values behind political parties that can’t be dismissed in the name of complacency.
The health care bill is case and point for freshman Emily Themer. “I think that he pretty much bent over backwards to accommodate [the opposing party]. [Democrats] were the ones who paid,” she said in reference to the development of the bill. Themer said that some progress was made, but not nearly enough. “This is where I believe that bi-partisanship can fail.” Themer agreed with Axley’s statement that complacency can be the downfall of positive political ideals. She admits to being disappointed in the way health care progressed and the downfall of political neutrality.
Obviously, bi-partisanship was not the only focus of this speech. According to the online CBS news poll speech, 92 percent of viewers approved of Obama’s political proposals, which focused strongly on environmental issues and education.
One issue Obama breached was taxation. “I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own.”