The State of the Union: Our Generation's Sputnik Moment

By Nikki Broderick ‘14Staff Writer

President Obama’s State of the Union Address on Jan. 25 marked a speech unprecedented by history in that it broke traditions by both Republicans and Democrats. Senator Mark Udall, a Democrat of Colorado, proposed that both parties break the normal seating habit and practice a more bipartisan practice of sitting with colleagues from either side of the aisle. Legislators from both the House and the Senate also wore black and white ribbons in honor of the victims of the shooting in Tucson and left an empty seat in honor of Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Another notable break with tradition was House Speaker John Boehner’s presence while he stood behind President Obama during the speech, the first time a Republican has been present with Obama during a joint session to Congress.

While the speech did show the president’s amazing abilities as an orator, it did not specifically address many issues that Americans and the United States will face throughout the rest of Obama’s term. Although President Obama did spend time speaking of American revenue and savings, he did not offer details among many important reforms, such as social security and healthcare. He also plans to "merge, consolidate and reorganize the federal government,” and promised to submit a plan to Congress in the “coming months”, such a vague timeline and proposal that it gives the president much leeway and room to change or abandon plans.

Obama made some sweeping promises and pledges, including providing 80 percent of Americans with clean energy by the year 2035 and having 1 million electric cars driving on the roads by 2015. He pledged for more investment in research, including biomedical, clean energy and information technology. President Obama also dedicated much of his speech to the magnitude and importance of education, and urged the country to seek opportunities and take this time in history as “our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

In an unusual turn of events, two rebuttals coming from the right wing were made in response of President Obama’s speech. Although the opposite party of the president normally offers a response, this year two representatives spoke—Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota. The Republican Party did not endorse Bachmann’s speech, fearing that it would detract from Representative Ryan’s message. Bachmann took the liberty of speaking upon the behalf of the Tea Party Express.

Although Obama did bring up some interesting points in the State of the Union, and spoke of many positive outreaches toward the future: scientific innovation, education and healthcare, he failed to recognize that many promises from his previous address to the nation have fallen through. Making more unrealistic pledges to the American people won’t instantly boost his approval ratings, as President Obama’s speech sounded oddly similar to a campaign rally—but that will have to wait until 2012. However, President Obama’s speech and seating chart did show the American people his active effort towards a more collaborative and bipartisan government, one that the United States will surely need in the future.