Posted on 26 January 2011.
President states, “We sit here tonight, but will we work together tomorrow?”
President Barack Obama stood before the nation and both houses of Congress in the annual State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The address took place in the shadow of a turbulent start to the new year after college student Jared Loughner allegedly shot and killed six people in Tucson, Ariz., including Arizona Chief Judge John Roll, and wounding 13 others, among them Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
A bi-partisan spirit was evident as both Republican and Democratic lawmakers sat side by side in the Capitol chambers, with some calling their partners “dates” as a gesture of unity following the attacks.
The president challenged the country to find what he called a new “Sputnik moment,” referring to the 1950s era space race against the Soviets in the face of growing challenges from China and India. Obama called for increased investment in clean energy, research and development, infrastructure, and, most importantly, education.
Referring to teachers as “patriots” Obama introduced his new education reform package called “Race to the Top,” which rewards innovative thinking from states to solve the education crisis. He vowed to move on from the Bush-era “No Child Left Behind” program by instituting what he referred to as “the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation.”
Obama made a big push toward solving the issue of gay rights. Not only did he invite Daniel Hernandez, the gay staff member widely credited with helping to save the life of Giffords, to sit with First Lady Michelle Obama, but he also stated that “no American will be forbidden from serving the country they love because of who they love.”
Obama encouraged college campuses to open their doors to military recruiters once the policy changes are approved by top military personnel after the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was signed into law by Obama in December.
Obama appeared willing to extend the spirit of bi-partisanship in the meantime, proposing a five-year freeze on domestic spending in addition to $78 million in cuts to the defense budget.
Obama spent very little of the 75 minute speech on illegal immigration, although he did call for the country to “stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can start new businesses and further enrich the nation.”
Republican critics were quick to jump on Obama’s speech as “flat,” calling Obama’s “investment” proposals a code word for spending. There was no mention of last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the continuing foreclosure crisis, unemployment woes, and, even given the recent circumstances, gun regulation.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, presented the GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union address, criticizing Obama for increasing domestic spending 84 percent following the passage of the stimulus bill into law.
Ryan noted that “no economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation,” although he offered no specifics on which programs should be cut.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota) also issued a separate-but-equal response on behalf of the Tea Party, calling for the repeal of the health care bill and urging government to increase American energy production while reducing demand for foreign oil.