Millennial Must-Reads are student-contributed posts by members of the "Millennial" generation - America's 18-29 year-olds - on current events and politics and public service. Viewpoints expressed are exclusively attributed to undergraduate authors and not endorsed by Harvard's Institute of Politics.
Millennials were an important voting block for President Obama's reelection, so the way he reaches this generation moving forward is extremely important for the success of his legislative agenda and future political campaigns of both parties. We asked two Institute of Politics students, one Republican and one Democrat, to write their reactions to the President's State of the Union Address.
James Garcia Alver
For me, the best part of the State of the Union coverage tonight was Rubio’s response. With speeches delivered in English and Spanish, he outlined a cogent, passionate, positive conservative vision that speaks to the problems facing ordinary Americans in a way that the GOP message machine has been sorely lacking of late. He managed to engage with the President’s plans and criticize his record on deficits without coming off as hostile. Water bottle gaffe aside, I think he came off incredibly well and presented the best opposition response I’ve seen to date.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the State of the Union speech itself. Some of the proposals—like raising the minimum wage to $9—seemed wrong-headed and destined to backfire if implemented, but for the most part Obama succeeded in presenting solutions that congressional Republicans would be willing to consider. The President, for example, spoke of public-private partnership in infrastructure investment, and generally sounded more willing to seek compromise with fiscal conservatives than he has in the past. Several of Obama’s post-election statements, including his inaugural address, seemed more like campaign speeches than serious attempts at political discourse, and the change of pace was refreshing.
While I was impressed by the relative moderation of the agenda presented in the State of the Union, I am less than convinced that the
President is serious about confronting the most pressing issues of the day, namely the debt and insolvent entitlement programs. The State of the Union touched on these issues briefly, but Obama’s refusal so far to consider raising eligibility ages for Social Security and Medicare to account for increases in lifespans or to develop a plan to balance the budget in the long-term bother me greatly. Toning down the antagonistic rhetoric is a great improvement for this President, but we have a ways to go before the State of the Union is truly secure.
James Garcia Alver is a sophomore Government concentrator living in Eliot House. He is the treasurer of Satire V, and a staff writer for the Harvard Political Review. He is a native of Tampa, FL and was an intern on the Romney 2012 campaign at the Republican National Convention.
At one point during my internship with the Obama campaign, a coworker said to me, “Winning an election doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished something. It means you get the chance to accomplish something.” This thought resonated with me, and I’ve come to it again and again in the past few months as I’ve watched the Obama administration transition away from hyper-political campaign mode, back to its original (hopeful) philosophy of moderate, cooperative governance.
With the State of the Union last night, there was a clear question of which type of rhetoric to choose. Would the President come out forcefully, as the second-term go-getter that had been promised in the campaign? Or would he come with a conciliatory tone, aware of risks of triggering a stalemate with a Republican-controlled congress? The answer is a bit of both—President Obama walked the line last night, calling attention to partisan issues, while offering policy suggestions that were (for the most part) cooperative.
Immigration reform especially stood out as an attainable task—as the President pointed out, both parties have agreed upon a core set of policies that now need to be put into legislation. I am extremely hopeful that both parties, aware of the fact that they won’t get all that they want in a bill, will move forward on reform. With other important issues, such as climate change, infrastructure investment, and early childhood education, I am less hopeful. The President made broad proposals, but there hasn’t been any indication so far that the legislative branch is willing to move on them in a credible way (Indeed, the post-speech comments of certain members indicate the opposite).
The most controversial (and for me, the most exciting) point of the night came with the President’s call for an increase in the minimum wage to $9. The call for a minimum wage tied to the cost of living was an unexpected reminder that the President was willing to fight for his base, and more importantly, for the spirit of opportunity that he ran on.
The concluding portion on gun control was by far the most powerful portion of the speech. As a Sikh American, it was especially poignant to hear the President conclude the event with the story of Officer Brian Murphy, who was shot twelve times while responding to the Sikh temple shooting last June. President Obama recognized the soapbox opportunity of last night, and used it to remind Americans yet again that we have not seen gun control legislation voted on since Newtown. On that issue, as with all others, the President will continue to have to ask himself what he is willing to compromise on in order to accomplish something. The election is over, but the work is just beginning.
Harleen Gambhir is a junior in Leverett House pursuing an honors degree in Social Studies. Originally from Laguna Beach, she splits her time between frolicking at the beach and frolicking in the snow. Harleen has interned at the Center for American Progress and at Obama campaign headquarters, and is currently working on a thesis examining the social theory implications of campaign analytics.