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A Vague Start To The 'Year of Action'

Heidi Carreon |
January 30, 2014 | 8:05 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Obama speaks in vague promises (twitpic/Newspress)
Obama speaks in vague promises (twitpic/Newspress)
Sitting in the Neon Tommy office with NBC’s live stream of the State of the Union Address up on a screen, I was pretty excited. This is my first year as a college student and as a legal adult. Sounds cheesy, but those things make me feel like a valid member of American society. So this year, I wanted to pay closer attention to what President Obama had in mind for the upcoming year, particularly for education. And along with a dozen other reporters who were milling around the office, working on news coverage, I tuned in to what our president had to say to Congress and the rest of the country.

The purpose of the State of the Union address is for a president to report to Congress on how well and/or how bad the country is doing. This year Obama was more inclined to paint a happier picture of the country by relating the “results of the efforts” of the American people. He listed these results like a proud father: a lower unemployment rate, more jobs, more oil produced at home than is imported, large deficit cuts, and America’s supposed status as a prime place of investment. But there was another list that Obama neglected to mention: the NSA leaks that caused Americans to question whether they are truly safe from their government, the dysfunctional Obamacare website that many Americans are still struggling to use, and the third longest government shutdown in American history. So much for giving full information on the state of the union.

But the address also sets the tone for what the president wants to achieve over the next year. The way Obama set the tone for the upcoming year, however, left me with mixed feelings—especially regarding his plans for education and helping women in the workforce.

On the one hand, it was nice to hear Obama report that curriculums across the country are making a switch to make problem-solving and critical thinking part of the focus of education. This means that students will be encouraged to actually think for themselves instead of going along with what teachers tell them—definitely a beneficial skill for college essays and discussions. And let’s be honest, the real world doesn’t care about how well a person can parrot someone else. People who try to act smarter than their actual IQ are, at the very least, barely tolerated. 

On the other hand, though, I wasn’t as pleased by Obama’s spiel on higher education as I would have liked. Thanks to a recent law, new students in the fall won’t have to pay more than 10 percent of their disposable income when repaying federal loans. And that is great news…but where does that leave the rest of us who are currently in higher education, who aren’t going to be new students this fall? 

Call me impatient, but hearing Obama say, “And I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt,” was less than reassuring. “Wanting to work” implies that there is nothing being done about it, and if there is, it will take a while before current college students can breathe a little easier when paying off debt.

Following his discussion of education, Obama made remarks about women in the work force. As a daughter of a single mother balancing multiple jobs, I was nodding and smiling when Obama called for equal opportunities, “because…when women succeed, America succeeds.” 

Amen to that. But there’s just one problem. He didn’t recommend any specific legislation to remedy current problems. Obama’s rallying cry for women to receive equal pay and the ability to take leave from work to care of children drew applauding Congressmen out of their seats and Americans’ approval into their social media posts. But as soon as the applause died down, Obama continued, “women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs – but they’re not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages.” This was a transition into a discussion on higher wages that was more in-depth than Obama’s discussion of women in the workforce. Considering how my mother stretched herself thin between raising me and earning enough money for us to get by, it would have been nicer to hear about what is being done to help women receive equal opportunity than to hear Obama tell Congress that women deserve to have equal opportunity.

Based on Obama’s closing remarks alone— focusing on how “our freedom, our democracy” and “the America we want for our kids” is not easy but within reach— there were a lot of pretty words in the address that made prefect social media fodder. But the bottom line is that a President’s State of the Union address needs to tell Congress how things are in the union and how things can get better. And this address’ call for a “year of action” is ironic because the entire address was veiled in ambiguity and conveniently didn’t address certain issues from 2013 such as the NSA papers and the Obamacare website. If this is the kind of tone that Obama wants to set for policy-making, then I don’t have much hope that anything is going to be done. 

Contact Staff Reporter Heidi Carreon here



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Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.