January 30, 2012

State of the Union (the belated edition)

Remember that one time I went to the White House Tweetup for the State of the Union last week? It was pretty awesome.

First, we waited in line.

Waiting in line.

Then, we finally made it past the gates and into the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB), where we sat down and waited for the speech to start.

Waiting for the speech to start.

We watched this version of the SOTU, with extra charts and graphs to support what the President said. 

Enhanced version of the speech

Now before I tell you what I thought of the President's speech, some important fashion announcements. First Lady Michelle Obama looked beautiful in this royal blue dress. And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (aka one of my life heroes!) sported this sparkly headband. It took us all back to the '90's, when Secretary Clinton sported the headband look as First Lady (for which people made fun of her).

Now that we have those breaking points out of the way, may I present unto you:

My Thoughts on the State of the Union

I thought the President was smart to start out by speaking of our recent military milestones. He said, "For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country." As someone who remembers 09/11 (I was a senior in high school) and who has lived for her entire adult life with Americans fighting in Iraq and with the ever-present threat of Osama bin Laden, this was a big deal

I loved the President's optimism as he spoke about the American we can be. He said we flourished after WWII, and we will do it again now. Rather than summarize for you very point he made in his speech, I want to touch on the two points that stood out to me the most: Education and Immigration. 

Some of my favorite quotes from the whole speech came when the President spoke on EDUCATION, including:
  • Teachers matter.
  • A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.
  • I am proposing that every state -- every state -- requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18. (ie- NO MORE DROPOUTS!)
  • At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt (this is SO me), this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.
and my personal favorite:
  • Higher education can't be a luxury -- it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.
The President has continually encouraged all Americans to seek education beyond high school as the key to a well-paying job. This is something my parents instilled in me from the time I was very young. Not everyone is blessed to have parents like mine, but I think it's important for us to support policies that make educational opportunities available to even more folks in this country, regardless of legal status. Which leads me to...

The President's remarks on IMMIGRATION:
  • Let us also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge: the fact that they aren't yet American citizens. Many were brought here as small children (like I was), are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation... We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.

    But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let's at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.
Honestly, I was disappointed by how little the President spoke about comprehensive immigration reform and by the fact that he didn't even mention the DREAM Act by name. I know many of us are disappointed that we haven't seen any progress on any comprehensive immigration reform. I didn't get called on to ask a question during the White House administration panel following the State of the Union, but I did Tweet it to the White House:

  failed when Dems were majority. What more will  do NOW that he didn't do then to make sure it passes?

In other words, are you just talking to talk, Mr. President? What are you actually going to do about this? After the panel, I flagged down one of the panelists, Roberto Rodriguez, who is a Special Assistant to the President and member of the White House Domestic Policy Counsel (also the only Latino on the panel). I asked him my question, and all I got from him were the same soundbites we've heard before. "The President will urge Congress to pass this bill." "He thinks this is an important issue." Blah blah blah. Nothing of substance, and nothing I haven't heard before. My hopes aren't too high for this to actually be addressed, and as seen above, neither are the President's.

Thoughts on the Tweetup

In spite of my extreme disappointment with regard to immigration, I appreciated the President's speech and his vision for our country. He spoke clearly but eloquently. I was absolutely fascinated by all the forms of technology being used to transmit the speech to Americans across the country -- TV, radio, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, whitehouse.gov, etc... 

To be able to watch the event live, from the White House, with other "Tweeps," was awesome. It was incredible to monitor my Twitter feed and to see in real-time how people were responding to what the President had just said. During the speech alone, 645,631 Tweets were tweeted using the hashtag #SOTU. (This doesn't include the commentary that continued after the speech ended, and throughout this past week.) 

I commend the President and his Administration on the way they've used technology to connect to average Americans and to help us feel like we have a say in the goings-on of our government. It makes me feel like the Administration is trying to be transparent with us and like there is someone we can approach with concerns. These Tweetups are not the first time the Obama Administration has used technology to reach out (think of all they did during the campaign, the "We the People" section of whitehouse.gov, etc.) nor will it be the last (the President did "hang out" on Google an hour ago, after all). I anticipate seeing more events like this not only from the President but from other candidates in the 2012 elections, as well.

(I can't figure out how to center this image... Sorry.)
Clockwise from the top left: Me outside the EEOB, my security pass, the West Wing, me with my classmate (Emily) who works at the White House.

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