Obama focuses on American innovation during his State of the Union address
President Barack Obama talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a phone call in the Oval Office, Jan. 25, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

President Obama hopes for a year  filled with big things, specifically an economic recovery. 

Taking the rhetorical power of the State of the Union on Tuesday night, Obama looked to inspire the country to rediscover the spirit of American innovation to ignite the economy.

“This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” Obama said.

In the speech, Obama presented to Congress general policy recommendations for consideration. Among them, he hopes to revive American innovation in order to create jobs and grow the economy.

The State of the Union address, mandated in the Constitution, is given every year, usually a week before the President presents the annual budget to Congress, said Tim LaPira, a political science professor.

“It’s the opportunity to frame the agenda in a way that doesn’t seem all that controversial,” he said. “My broad impression was resoundingly unremarkable, and that’s on purpose.”

On the president’s agenda are creating new jobs in the United States, decreasing the national debt, reorganizing government and the tax code for better efficiency, removing troops from Afghanistan and making higher education more a ordable for students.

Specifically relating to education, Obama talked about America falling to th in world rankings for percent of young people with college degrees. According to the president, to regain the top ranking, America needs to not only improve access to higher education but also strengthen the K- public schools.

Specifically, Obama hopes the Race to the Top initiative for K-12 public schools, will continue to improve public schools to better prepare graduates for higher education and the workforce.

“Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation,” Obama said. “For less than percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.”

The president spoke about previously passed higher education reforms in a move to make college more affordable.

“To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American,” Obama said. “That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask

Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit — worth $10,000for four years of college.”

Even though Obama did not mention specifically education programs, he did strike a desire to improve the math and science fields in public education.

This focus on math and technology could mean more programming and funding in those areas of higher education, LaPira said.

“They are platforms for marketable products and services,” LaPira said. “It wasn’t a mistake that he highlighted Google and Facebook.”

Becki Schumm, a junior political science major, was optimistic about the initiatives, but not entirely impressed. “As most of his speeches are, it was elective and uplifting,” she said. “Unfortunately, I don’t take everything he says as the truth.” 

Schumm was especially encouraged by Obama’s view on the economy, she said.

“I usually hear so many negative things about the economy from professors, but Obama put a positive spin on it,” she said. In addition to offering policy proposals, the president also uses the State of the Union to inspire, unite and remind the country that the state of the union is indeed strong.

"Remember - for all the hits we've taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world," Obama said.

While Obama used his rhetoric to inspire faith in the economy, he also addressed more policy areas, such as job creation through education, energy investment and infrastructure improvements.

"Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America's success," he said. But if we want to win the future - if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas."

Brian Kaylor, a communication studies professor, noted that nothing Obama discussed was a mistake.

"He struck the rhetorical notes he needed to," he said. "If he were to lay out specifics, in about 12 hours he would still be speaking."

By nature, the State of the Union is a generic speech, but this year, the stage was different because of the Republicans gaining the majority in the House of Representatives, Kaylor said.

"There were a lot more elephants in the room," Kaylor said.

"The dynamic of Washington had changed."

Even though there were more members of the opposing party than last year's speech, the Republicans and Democrats differed in their seating arrangements by crossing party lines and sitting with members of the opposing party.

"That was temporary, Lapira said. " And it will be short-lived. Congress right now is more polarized than ever before in American history,"

Typically members of each party sit separately, with the Republicans sitting to the right of the president and the Democrats to the left.

In looking forward to the year ahead, Schumm said she is unsure of what policies will be changed or proposed in the coming year.

"I think he's really trying," she said. "Hopefully, there will be a lot of changes behind the scenes, but I don't see there being a ton done in one year."

Contact Molly Haas at haasmr@dukes.jmu.edu.