The State of the Union, in many ways, was monumental. President Barack Obama used the word "transgender" for the first time. He explained his community college plan. The President also highlighted the importance of paid sick and maternity leave, mentioning how behind the U.S. is compared to other developed countries.
But there were a couple problems.
First, perhaps the public's response may have focused too much on Obama's snappy ad-libbed response to a hostile audience. After the President sighed, "I have no more campaigns to run," in a attempt to transition to a new point, Republicans began booing. Rather than continuing with his speech, Obama quickly replied, "That's because I won both of them." The Internet went wild. The Commander-in-Chief had discovered snark!
But the hype surrounding the tension between Congress and the President is a little bit too high, put in historical perspective. This moment was just another of many jabs across the aisle. It's not uncommon for a second-term President to have a Congress of the opposite party. According to Dick Polman of Newsworks, "The last time a president delivered a seventh SOTU to a Congress controlled by his own party, the year was 1939."
In short, the attention given to this moment is too much, and has only distracted from more important policy questions, while exacerbating political conflict between Republicans and Democrats.
Second, the President's administration has taken a small, but important, step towards political transparency. Traditionally, a copy of the State of the Union draft is only given to members of the press before the President begins to speak. This has, in the past, allowed newspapers to get a head start on reporting and interviewing, before the speech has even concluded. Headlines are prepared while "the public remains in the dark."
Presidential historian Michael Beschloss commented during a PBS News Hour interview: "Sometimes this had unfortunate consequences. For instance, on November 22, 1963, after President Kennedy was assassinated on his way to deliver a luncheon speech at the Dallas Trade Mart, a few newspapers reported that JFK had actually delivered the Trade Mart address, with quotes from what he had ‘said.’"
This year, the speech was made available online to everyone. Obama's face was also streamed live next to Tweets and facts. (Funnily enough, this somewhat mirrored the format of the President's segment as a guest on The Colbert Report, which just ended recently).
Third, as is well-known, Republicans have continued to struggle with winning the votes of the Hispanic population. However, after this State of the Union, Republicans were caught between a rock and a hard place.
Traditionally, the State of the Union address is followed by a "rebuttal" speech of the opposite party. Usually, a rising political star is chosen, as a method of introducing the individual to the national party.
This year, Senator Jodie Ernst of Iowa was chosen as the lucky representative. Ernst is a member of the Tea Party but is sure to spark conversation in the national arena in the coming years. But while delivering the rebuttal is certainly an honor, it can often result in intense criticism.
But the most important problem in the Republicans' rebuttal had nothing to do with Ernst. Florida Congressman Carlos Curbelo was chosen to deliver the Spanish-language translation of the rebuttal, marketed as essentially the same speech as Ernst's.
But in reality, the Spanish version left out several key points of Ernst's speech, and included points about immigration that the freshman Senator never mentioned.
"Let's also work through appropriate channels to create permanent solutions to our immigration system—to secure our borders, modernize legal immigration and strengthen our economy," Curbelo translated, using a statement that was significantly different from most hard-right rhetoric on the subject.
What issues stood out the most to you, collegiettes?