Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike packed into Lerner Hall’s piano room on Tuesday night to watch President Barack Obama deliver his State of the Union address, in an event filled with cheering, chanting, and drinking games.
The event was sponsored by the Columbia University Democrats, the Columbia University College Republicans, and the Columbia Political Union. In his annual speech to both houses of Congress, Obama discussed tax reform, bringing manufacturing jobs back to America, education reform, illegal immigration, infrastructure, and renewable energy, among other issues.
Several parts of the speech generated cheers, laughter, and applause.
Many students cheered when Obama insisted that Congress pass a payroll tax cut without delay. The room burst out laughing when Obama pointed out that “Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary,” and the camera actually showed Buffett’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, sitting in the audience.
When Obama called for ending tax cuts for wealthy Americans, one student blurted out, “Mitt Romney”—a reference to the tax forms Romney recently released, which showed that he and his wife pay a roughly 15 percent tax rate.
On the whole, CUDems in attendance had positive reactions to the speech. CUDems President Janine Balekdjian, CC ’13, said she felt that Obama made coherent arguments about relevant issues.
“The president was largely trying to be pragmatic,” she said. “It shows him as someone who is willing to compromise.”
The CUDems also promoted a non-alcoholic drinking game. Participants were supposed to drink every time Obama said “let me be clear” and “reach across the aisle,” and to do shots if Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) cried, among other categories.
Some students, including members of CUCR, were less than enamored with Obama’s address. Taylor Thompson, CC ’14, said that although he respects Obama, he wasn’t enthusiastic about the president’s agenda.
“He spoke as a president,” Thompson said. “But his actions and rhetoric just don’t match up.”
And Jamie Boothe, CC ’15, said it seemed like Obama “was just trying to get votes.”
Several of Obama’s points, though, seemed to resonate well with students across party lines. Some CUCR members clapped when Obama condemned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government.
Ryan Morgan, SEAS ’14 and a Democrat, said that he appreciated Obama’s emphasis on repairing old infrastructure.
“We need to invest in more infrastructure,” Morgan, a civil engineering major, said. “I really like that he talked about it.”
Other students said they liked Obama’s emphasis on reforming education and making higher education available and affordable for every American.
For some students in attendance, including Samantha Gilbert, CC ’15, Obama’s discussion of the affordability of higher education struck close to home. Gilbert called the speech “relevant” and “well-rounded.”
“As a student on work-study, I wholeheartedly appreciate that he wants to double work-study jobs,” she said.
In his speech, Obama noted that “Americans owe more in tuition than credit card debt.” The total estimated cost of attending Columbia College this year is $59,208, and the average Columbia College or School of Engineering and Applied Science student graduated with $8,886 in debt last year.
Obama also discussed his frustration with Washington’s fierce partisan divide.
“Washington is broken,” he said, more than once telling Congress, “Send me a bill. I’ll sign it.”
Obama closed his speech by saying that America thrives on teamwork.
“Our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our union will always be strong,” he said.