In the first of a series of speeches related to economic goals, President Barack Obama called on congress to work together to help grow the economy “from the middle out, not the top down.”
“I will not allow gridlock or inaction or willful indifference to get in our way,” he said. The president also asserted that he would use executive power if need be.
This economic policy is what he will be focusing on for his remaining time in office.
Although America has been making economic strides in this time of recovery, Obama said, “I’m here to tell you today that we’re not there yet. We all know that. We’re not there yet. We’ve got more work to do.”
He cited that Americans today make less than they did in the 1990s. While Obama said that addressing economic issues was his greatest interest, he noted that he should not be the only one.
“Reversing these trends has to be Washington’s highest priority,” he said. “They’re certainly my highest priority.” Both of these responses received a huge applause from the audience.
Obama detailed his goals for building the economy by means of building the middle class. He listed five cornerstones for a strong middle class, which were:
Obama said that if the American people decided to do nothing that he had talked about, the country would still get by and the economy would grow, although slowly. But he asserted that “part of our character would be lost.”
If, on the other hand, America decided to pursue his goals, the president said the economy would be stronger one, five and even 10 years from now.
He closed his speech by saying, “We will find an ocean of tomorrows,” which references a written work by Galesburg-born Carl Sandburg.
This final note was fitting, considering the location of the president’s speech.
Only 600 people were given tickets to attend Obama’s remarks. These tickets, which were free, were only available on a first come, first served basis to those physically present at Knox’s Office of Communications on Monday.
A number of noteworthy people made it a point to be there, including former mayor of Galesburg Sal Garza and former President of Knox College Roger Taylor.
Current President of Knox College Teresa Amott was also in attendance, stating that “it’s a wonderful thing for Knox to have a visit from a standing president.”
She noted that it was especially exciting to have Obama visit again, as he was last at the college in 2005 to deliver a commencement speech as a new Illinois senator.
“He gave a speech at that time that I think was very much focused on the future of young people, and now, to come back and echo those themes … it is a speech about the future. It’s a perfect speech to give in a college setting,” Amott said. “How … we all come together to make the economy grow is a huge theme for any young person at any level.”
A number of students who are staying on campus this summer got the opportunity to see the president’s speech.
Senior Emily Cooney said that it was “really cool” to witness his speech, and that it was “kind of a shock to see him in person.”
Cooney “liked how he was trying to bring people together instead of it just being Democrat versus Republican.”
Other faculty and staff also reacted to the president’s remarks about working with both parties in congress to achieve a better economy.
“He’s the president, so he’s the person that everybody can focus on and be mad at. But really, if you’re frustrated with what’s going on, you need to be looking at what your local state and what your federal representatives are doing, and are they part of the solution or are they being part of the problem?” Director of Multicultural Student Advisement Tianna Cervantez said. “So he can put those ideas out there, but if [congress is] not willing to work together, then we’re going to be stuck.”
Assistant Librarian for Public Services Anne Giffey shared similar thoughts.
“I don’t think he laid out anything specific as far as policy, and he said that right upfront. But it was a good rallying cry.”