Students React to State of the Union

College students applaud Obama's bipartisan rhetoric

The State of the Union
Aleah C. Bowie

Students gathered in Canaday's common room last night to watch President Obama's State of the Union address.

Campus Democrats and Republicans found common ground in their praise for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last night, with students of both political leanings hailing the speech for its bipartisan rhetoric.

“I did see it as a start on a redefined focus,” said Luis A. Martinez ’12, a Harvard Republican Club vice president who helped host a Republican Club viewing event in Winthrop House. “It was effective in communicating a fuller platform toward reenergizing America.”

Students said they saw the address as an effort to bolster the Democratic Party’s momentum, which took a hit after Republican Scott P. Brown won a historically Democratic seat in the Mass. senatorial election last week. Brown will be the 41st Republican Senator, giving his party filibuster power that could derail the Democrats’ plans for health care reform.

“This really was a call to action,” said Harvard Democrats President Jason Q. Berkenfeld ’11, who watched the speech at a Dems-organized event in a Leverett House common room. “As the Obama administration sets the pace, we as an organization will definitely respond.”

Obama’s pledge yesterday to abolish the federal policy of barring openly gay members from the military this year struck a chord of approval among students. Obama promised during his presidential campaign to work to reform the 1993 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy but has not yet taken concrete action.

“Historically, the military has been one of the first segments of America to integrate, whether it is by gender or race or any other factor,” said Harvard ROTC Association President Karl J. Kmiecik ’10. “The president as commander in chief has made a decision that falls within the proud traditions of our country.”

Currently, Harvard does not recognize ROTC for what the administration considers to be discriminatory policies, and the Dems and Republicans have joined in past years to campaign for ROTC’s return.

Other viewing parties offered lighter, less partisan atmospheres for attendees.

At Adams House, House Committee organizers invited a government tutor and the Adams Brewing Club to host their own apolitical viewing of the speech. Members of the Brewing Club brought a festive tone to the event—though drinking each time to the word “job” proved infeasible. Attendees were nonetheless anxious to hear from Obama, Samuel B. Novey ’11 said.

“The country is at a very perilous moment,” said Novey, adding that he appreciated the timeliness of Obama’s motivational message. “He said, ‘We don’t quit.’”

Novey, who was involved in the Obama campaign, said that he and other supporters had grown “a little concerned and disappointed” in recent months, as the administration struggled to deliver on its ambitious plans. But he said that the speech resonated with his frustrations, particularly in moments when Obama exhorted Republicans to commit to reaching across the aisle.

Novey also applauded Obama’s promise to support students’ tuition, which he described as “one of the most exciting and overlooked issues.” He noted that Obama’s plan to forgive loans for students entering public service careers was especially relevant and said he personally planned to take advantage of such a program.

But the positive responses to Obama’s speech may simply reflect the high proportion of self-described liberals on campus.

“Anything coming out of Barack Obama’s mouth has to be high up there,” Berkenfeld said, rating the speech as a nine out of 10.

—Staff writer Noah S. Rayman can be reached at nrayman@fas.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: January 28, 2010

An earlier version of the Jan. 28 news article "Students React to State of the Union" referenced Samuel B. Novey as a senior. In fact, he is a junior.

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