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College Dems react to Obama address

Robert Singer | Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Facing a sinking economy and staunch resistance from Republicans in Congress, President Barack Obama put forward a bold agenda Tuesday night in an address to a joint session of Congress that met the expectations of College Democrats president Spencer Howard.

“Even with the current situation we’re in, it was nice for him to raise the bar for what the government is doing,” Howard said. “He wants us to reach for things that we’ve haven’t thought possible.”

The agenda Obama set in his speech, which detailed sweeping changes to education, energy policy and health care, did not prioritize expanding the government so much as improving its ability to meet people’s needs, Howard said.

“It’s not about making government bigger,” he said. “It’s about making government smarter. You don’t want to over-regulate, but you can’t let people run amok.”

Obama not only described the current crisis while laying the groundwork for a short-term recovery plan, but also detailed his plans to strengthen the economy for future generations. Weaknesses in energy policy, a fractured health care system and lagging public schools have contributed to the crisis now facing the country, but these things can be fixed, Obama said.

“If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities – as a government or as a people,” Obama said. “I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we’ll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.”

Freshman Michael Fedynsky said he agreed with Obama’s view that the nation faces a “crossroads in history” – challenges in health care, energy, and education have converged to threaten the nation’s long-term prosperity.

“I feel like the next few generations will look at this point either as the beginning of the end of our time as a superpower or a rebirth of American power,” Fedynsky said.

Howard said Obama fulfilled his aim to “speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here” about the problems facing the nation.

“I think he understands what people are going through and that’s why he came out to Elkhart, Indiana, and Fort Myers, Florida – so people can have access to him,” Howard said. “It was an extension of those town hall meetings to reach a greater number of people.”

Considering the scale and complexity of the problems facing the nation, Obama’s ability to communicate his message will be crucial to summoning public support, Howard said.

“If you look at all these issues, they’re so connected to each other,” Howard said. “You can’t really isolate what goes on in our world. When it comes to businesses moving jobs offshore or into other countries, that affects everything.”

More affordable health care will ease people’s budget and allow more of them to attain higher levels of education, Howard said, while a more educated workforce will spur a more productive economy.

“It’s all connected,” he said. “Whatever we’re doing with education and healthcare is going to affect another policy.”

Howard also spoke favorably of Obama’s plan to pull the nation out of the recession. The stimulus package recently passed into law will have an immediate impact on the economy by helping ordinary people, Howard said.

“Our economy can’t get going if people aren’t working,” he said.

Other changes must also take place, Howard said.

“They have to put in regulations where the general population is not hurt by corporations maximizing their profit,” he said.

Howard also explained how Obama’s plan for a more sustainable energy policy will lead to a better economy.

“It’s very important,” he said. “It’s more than energy independence. We have to have a little more control over what’s going on in our economy. If there’s a conflict in another country and we can’t get the energy source that will cause problems.”

Bipartisanship has been a goal of the Obama administration, but so far the parties have remained largely divided on economic policy. Howard and Fedynsky discussed Obama’s efforts to reach across the aisle.

“It was clear with the stimulus that he tried to reach out to them, and I think he was willing to compromise on some points, but I don’t think the Republicans really met him,” Fedynsky said. “He’s not going to go all the way to meet the Republicans because he won the election.”

“The Republican Party, it’s not a very big tent,” Howard added. “They are very set in ideology and there’s not a lot questioning among them it seems. In the Senate, the Republicans take a lot of flak for bucking the party lines.”

Toward the end of his speech, Obama shared accounts of Americans who have struggled to make positive change amid economic hardship. Howard said Obama’s optimism has helped to lift the public’s mindset.

“I think now they are starting to feel a little more helpful with having a stimulus package in place,” he said. “I think these stories help people see what is possible even if they have been going through hard times.”