February 1, 2012

State of the Union contrasts candidates

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last Tuesday served as a campaign opportunity for the President, including many subtle jabs at Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney.

Although Obama touched on foreign policy, environmental concerns and education, most of his attention was turned toward the economic concerns of middle-class Americans, a move which, according to Mark Landler of the New York Times, cast Romney as Obama’s “natural foil.”

“Romney says, ‘I’m a successful businessman; I’ve spent years creating jobs in the private sector,’” Assistant Professor of Political Science Andy Civettini said. “The critique of that will be, ‘Your experience in the marketplace has been to dismantle and destroy companies. Your motive was to help incredibly wealthy people turn a profit.’”

Discussion of a potential millionaires’ tax, coming recently after Romney released tax returns showcasing an income of over $20 million in 2010, coupled with support for the housing market and automobile industries, which Romney has suggested should have been allowed to collapse, potentially indicated a desire to illustrate the contrasts between Obama and the man who seems increasingly likely to gain the Republican nomination.

“I’d say it’s probably about a 90 percent chance that [Romney] gets the nomination,” Civettini said.

After losing to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina’s Republican primary, Romney came out on top in Tuesday’s primary in Florida, winning 46.4 percent of the vote. Gingrich, who surprised many with his large margin of victory in South Carolina, came in second with 31.9 percent. Romney had previously won the New Hampshire primary and come in just 24 votes behind Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucus.

Falling just a week before the Florida primary, the State of the Union address provided an opportunity for Obama to not only distance himself from Romney but also attempt to curry favor with independent voters who may not support Romney’s ascendancy.

“This State of the Union was more about being bipartisan: trying to gain Republican favoritism and showing strength, power and tax cuts to those who have criticized him for limiting freedom,” senior Maks Czuperski said.

Romney himself had spoken in Tampa, Fla. on the day of the State of the Union address, claiming that Republicans “don’t demonize prosperity; we celebrate success.”

Regardless of the address’ intent, its approval was high: according to a CBS News poll, 91 percent of viewers supported the proposals set forth in the State of the Union.

“What was interesting … in my mind was that it was a little less sweeping in its proposals than a State of the Union in a typical reelection year,” Civettini said. “Usually, you have a few more big-ticket policy ideas. Most of the stuff mentioned was pretty small – not inconsequential, but small.”

Civettini pointed to Obama’s suggestion of working with community colleges on job retraining programs, a specific policy instead of a broad statement simply saying that more money will be spent on such programs. This strategy captured the attention of many viewers, including junior Gretta Reed.

“I was intrigued by President Obama’s idea to use community colleges and technical colleges as a better resource,” Reed said. “On the other hand, I don’t think most schools are equipped to rebrand themselves for green energy job retraining.”

As the election season continues, Obama’s presentation of his own policies as well as his differences from Romney is likely to change, Civettini said.

“I do see … some of the signs that the Democrats are pulling back a bit,” he said. “It’s almost a lock that it’s going to be Romney, so they might as well save the big hits for October.”

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