Official White House photo by Pete Souza

In this year’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama seemed to have several themes: How the United States lags behind different countries, how he wants to make the United States superior, and how political parties must come together for the good of the nation.

Pretty simple agenda, right?

Wrong. Obama opened up his speech with numerous references to the new conservative tinge to the houses of Congress, congratulating new Speaker of the House John Boehner, while citing the need to eliminate the chasm in American politics that we call “political parties.”

Later on in the speech, Obama did just that – calling for bipartisanship and cooperation in a perfectly simple and well-said statement: “We will move forward together, or not at all; for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.”

However, Republicans seemed less inclined towards cooperation after the speech. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) stated afterwards that the problem lies within perceived “lives of complacency and dependency” that the “failed stimulus” has fostered, and not in the lack of American innovation and ingenuity.

What struck me was how personal Obama became at several points in his address. He brought up the stories of hardworking, everyday Americans, such as a 50-year-old mother who was unable to work in her furniture business due to low demand, and instead went back to college to learn biotechnology, or how a small business owner was able to harness his drilling business technology to develop the drill used to save the lives of the Chilean miners trapped miles underground.

The President’s speech was also uncommon in the amount of times both sides of the chamber gave applause at the same time – it is much more common for one side to cheer while the other stares stonily forward, and vice versa. This speech seemed to have marked a general bipartisan mood, something seen to signify (hopefully) the new cohesion of a bipartisan Congress.

But the President stayed true to his Democratic roots when he proposed that we eliminate the tax subsidies given to oil companies in order to pay off our debt, and “instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow.” This was met with silence from the Republican side, and a stony glare from John Boehner.

There were a few points of contention with Obama’s speech, however. It’s called the State of the Union address, right? However, at many points during this year’s annual speech, it seemed as though he was talking about the state of other unions.

Throughout a huge portion of his speech, he would refer to other countries as having much “better” systems in place – education, high-speed railways, etc. But I feel that for me, and also many other Americans, this speech is supposed to be about the United States, and not about China, India, South Korea, and Germany.

There was a saving grace when the President mentioned the fact that the United States actually created much of this technology, and are pioneers in the fields in which he spoke of – we laid the first transcontinental railroad, we are home to many of the top-twenty ranked universities in the world, and we were the first country to put a man on the moon.

As Obama said, there is not a single person in that chamber who would rather be anywhere else working for any other country, despite the bitter debates taking place in that very room. What makes our nation so great is the ability of millions of people to tune in and listen to the annual speech, given every year since our founding, and still find ways to make our country be the best country in the world.

We must recognize our differences, but work for the betterment of society; with that said, let us hope that our Congress finds common ground and does just that.

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