State of the Union: Standing by Idealism


Andrew Urena

We are strong; at least, according to President Obama’s State of the Union address, we are. Touting that we have come out of the shadow of crisis, the President in many ways went on the offensive Tuesday night; riding the wave of a strengthening economy, he laid out significant progressive proposals for 2015. But what results can we expect? While State of the Union addresses are often more akin to a Christmas wish-list—as the President’s prior track record has shown—a more robust economy, and a GOP-controlled Congress offer some interesting opportunities and challenges for the upcoming year.

While, according to census data and budget reports from 2014 to 2015, he fulfilled many of his 2014 proposals—increasing education spending nationwide by two percent, enrolling 6.8 million people in Affordable Care Act-created marketplaces as of Jan. 9, enacting stricter carbon emissions regulations, and ending the war in Afghanistan—the President still faces an uphill battle in 2015 to expand education spending and capitalize on a growing economy.

Although 2014 was a critical year for economic growth—adding over two million jobs—wages still remain stagnant. According to a report from the National Employment Law Project, despite this growth, we’re still about even with pre-recession job levels as most jobs gained since the recession have been in the low-wage service sector. Fortunately, the recovering economy can help combat wage stagflation and allow for more focus on increasing the federal minimum wage. Last Tuesday, the President proposed a plan to make community college free for students, which, in tandem with economic trends, would improve living standards and help stem the tide of higher education costs and student debt. Unfortunately, as ambitious and important as these goals are, they’ll likely remain just goals, most likely dying in the GOP-controlled Congress.

But a critical issue arises: Why should we as students care? Democrats got slammed last November, and the Republican-dominated House and Senate will almost certainly stifle any of the President’s plans moving forward.

While many criticize the President’s plan as unrealistic and label him an idealist, know that I agree with you. He is an idealist, and I respect him for that. We all should push ourselves to dream bigger, work towards equality, and take a vested interest in our future. This isn’t an abstract issue; this concerns all of us. We have an obligation to ensure the president’s promises are followed through, and as students, we have the opportunity to take an active role in achieving them. We and future students have a lot riding on the outcome.

This is a critical time of change in our country, and our voice matters more than ever. We are the future leaders of America, and we have the opportunity to share in the President’s idealism and push forward to create an America in which those less fortunate than us have the opportunity to support themselves. As university students, our own education should stand as a testament towards what can be achieved through public action. Let’s take our own lives as a parable for enhancing the public good. If you hold the values that all Americans should have access to healthcare, higher education, and a living wage, you should stand in support of the President’s proposals. Standing idly by will only perpetuate the problems, and one can’t be neutral on a moving train.

Although I am ruefully aware that only time will tell if Congress will work with the President and enact his proposals, I am inspired by his address—which is exactly how it should be. His State of the Union stands for something bigger. It stands to invoke a sense of idealism in all of us—that’s the catalyst for change in our country. We have the decision whether to share his vision or stand idly by. And though you may label his plans too bold and him an idealist, remember that our country was founded on bold plans by idealists. Whatever the outcome, just know that you have my support, Mr. President.