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IUSB American Democracy Project Students Watch Obama Address Closely

Re-posted from WSBT.

The debate over President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address began almost immediately, across the country and here at home.

Students from Indiana University South Bend’s American Democracy Project had their own unique take on Wednesday night’s address as they watched for Obama to “change the conversation” during his speech.

Meaning, Obama wanted to shift from “stalling progress on his agenda” to “seizing the reigns” on items like the economy, health care and national security.

Obama sought to emphasize jobs and the economy, focusing more than half of his address on those issues. As for seeking to move the nation forward, whether or not he accomplished that goal depended on the issue Obama was addressing, students and professors said.

“He understands that people are skeptical and growing impatient,” said Elizabeth Bennion, a political scientist at IUSB. “And so he really did repeatedly come back to the anxiety and frustrations of the American people, and also speak to their aspirations and try to recapture that hope and optimism that made him so popular a year ago.”

The students and professors took notes in near-silence, save for the occasional grunt of disapproval of clap of support.

But there was one subject that got more applause than any other: Obama’s call to make higher education more accessible and affordable.

Still, the audience was split on other issues. Some said Obama continued to deflect too much onto the Bush administration, and failed to present clear plans to dig the country out of its recession.

Others disagreed, and said the president did address those concerns — calling for a three-year freeze on domestic spending, and asking Congress to pass a second stimulus package.

Political science student Angela Johnson said she approved of Obama’s handling of the more difficult issues.

“Like him or hate him, or whatever,” she said, “I think he’s really making some great strides toward taking action. And he doesn’t necessarily shy away from the negative, or from what’s not working. He’s willing to address those issues.”

Most of the IUSB observers felt that at this pivotal time in America, Obama set out to do what he planned with his message, even if his first State of the Union address wasn’t a slam-dunk.

The big questions: Will tonight’s speech move the Obama administration’s plans forward? And will Obama be able to capitalize on any momentum?

Bennion says the true impact of Obama’s address won’t be known until the days and weeks ahead, although he may enjoy a temporary bump in the polls.

However, she thinks the president was able to put renewed focus on his economic plan. And at the same time, he made it clear that his agenda — including health care reform — has not changed.

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