President Barack Obama seemed to be as confident as ever Tuesday night while he defended his Democratic agenda and showed that during his last two years in office, he was aggressively pushing programs and policies that have been on the back burner.

Obama discussed more than 40 issues the United States faces today, including terrorism, immigration, police relations, economic growth, jobs and overall progress. On raising minimum wage, he directed comments toward Congress saying, “If you truly believe you could work full time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”

With multiple standing ovations and eruptions of applause throughout the night, it was clear that namely Democratic politicians and guests in attendance were impressed. Across campus, Obama’s sixth State of the Union address created its own commentary from both professionals and students.

Josh Humphries, a junior political science major said the address “felt much more like a Democratic platform speech” than a traditional State of the Union. And instead of “start[ing] the work right now,” he suggests Obama should have started the work six years ago at the beginning of his first term.

As a conservative, Humphries questions how Obama’s newer proposals, such as increasing funding for child care, increased paid maternity and sick leave, and free community college will be funded.

“I always wonder, with the national debt nearing $18 trillion, how are we going to pay for these programs?” Humphries said. “The middle class economy plan that the president supports is really nothing more than redistributive wealth.”

But Robert Horn, an economics professor at JMU, supports Obama’s plan to give a substantial income lift to middle-income working families by cutting some of their tax burden. 

“I personally have no problem with a little higher taxes on people who are multi-billionares who can afford it,” Horn said.

Countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France continue to have high unemployment rates and sluggish growth. But according to Horn, the U.S. economy has rebounded from the great recession quickly and GDP growth is much higher than that of other Western countries.

“We certainly have a long way to go, but we are back on schedule,” Horn said.

Obama’s address included that the crime rate and incarceration rate have come down together for the first time in 40 years, suggesting that both Republicans and Democrats, community leaders and law enforcement should use this as a starting point to reform America’s criminal justice system.

He also addressed improving relations with Cuba by saying, “When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.” He welcomed home Alan Gross, an American who was held as a prisoner in Cuba for five years.

Justin Porter, a senior geographic science major, thought the address was effective. He said he had never heard his peers talk so favorably about a State of the Union address.

Porter, who identifies as a gay male, specifically appreciated Obama’s defense of the LGBTQ community and is proud of the progress the U.S. has made.

“But most importantly, he discussed climate change,” Porter said. “[It] is, indeed, one of the largest threats to national security and will threaten more Americans than anything else globally.” 

Shanil Virani, JMU’s John C. Wells Planetarium director and an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, agrees with Porter’s stance, saying that every science academy in the world has endorsed the view of anthropomorphic climate change and that solving how to mitigate its effects is critically important for our country.

As a huge advocate for space exploration and settlement, Virani was pleased by Obama’s inclusion of the American astronaut, Scott Kelly, who, in two months, will begin a yearlong stay in space.

“Solving how we get Americans to Mars will lead not only a return on our investment,” Virani said. “But new tools and technology that will drive our society.” 

He was also delighted to hear the president mention both climate change and our re-energized space program, and making it a priority for the country to move forward.

Obama spoke of his plan to continue using military force against ISIL to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group.

And in another interest of national security, Obama promised to close the controversial prison at Guantanamo Bay, which holds captured terrorist plotters from all over the world.

Kerry Crawford, an assistant professor of political science, said this decision straddled two important motivating factors: morality and strategy.

She referenced Obama’s “profound commitment to justice” and the statement that the prison is “not who we are,” saying that this motivation to close the prison reflects the country’s commitment to humanitarianism.

“President Obama highlighted the fact that keeping the prison open may actually make the United States and its interests less secure because militant groups and terrorist organizations can certainly leverage this case in their recruitment efforts,” Crawford said.

And perhaps the most talked about part of the address came near the very end — “I have no more campaigns to run,” Obama said, which was followed by a mock applause by some in attendance. And to that, the president said, “I know because I won both of them.”

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