2011 State of the Union Recap

By Samantha Plotner

President Obama. Word.

The State of the Union address is an interesting convention in American politics. Derived from a constitutional obligation to annually update Congress, what began as a letter has turned into a televised spectacle that co-opts airtime on all major networks and cable news channels. Yet regardless of who is in office, many of the applause lines are the same: reducing our dependence of foreign oil, preventing the outsourcing of jobs, and stopping illegal immigration. The policies may change, but the concepts appear in almost every address this decade.

Now, on to this year’s speech. Rhetorically, it was not particularly memorable, which is unfortunate for a President who built his career largely on his amazing oratory skills.While it is expected that in a presidential election year the State of the Union will be tempered, a memorable line or two would have been nice. This year, President Obama started off with security issues, and in an intro likely to show up in his campaign ads this coming fall, he touted the withdrawal from Iraq and the death of Osama Bin Laden. Unsurprisingly, the President came off as a consummate centrist, often espousing conservative and liberal polices in the same sentence and a half. This was particularly stark when he spoke on immigration. He sounded almost Republican when he highlighted how his administration has put “more boots on the border” to prevent more illegal crossings.Yet, that sentiment was expressed almost simultaneously with that of supporting the creation of a path to citizenship for young adults raised as Americans who were brought to this country illegally as children.

There were also a few new initiatives announced, including a new trade force being created to fight counterfeit goods. The administration will also be pushing states on educational fronts, especially in order to change high dropout polices and requiring students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. Perhaps the biggest news, however, and interestingly out of place in a mostly centrist speech, Obama threw a major bone to the progressives who have been doubting him. The Justice Department will be launching an investigation into Wall Street and the practices that lead to the recession.

Warren Buffet’s assistant, Debbie Bosanek

As in all State of the Union addresses, those there watching were almost as important as the speech’s content. The administration made some very clear statements via the people invited to sit in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box. The audience included a young man who had been able to get cancer treatment because of health care reform, a woman who got a new job after being laid-off because of specialized job trading, and an employee from a manufacturing plant who transitioned from making yachts to high tech green batteries. However, the most ingenious strategic audience member was Warren Buffet’s assistant. Her presence not only stood in stark contrast to the CEOs seated in Speaker John Boehner’s box but also alluded to the oft repeated line that Warren Buffet should not pay less in taxes than his secretary.

All in all, this annual piece of political theater was not particularly memorable, but that won’t stop us from tuning in next year to see the 2012 victor’s speech.

Samantha is a junior at Barnard and the Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing

Images courtesy of 13 News and Yahoo News.

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