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Obama: Change coming too slow

Jan. 28, 2010

Professors, students debate speech

Matthew Hellman | Lariat Photographer
From left: Waco freshman Alex McElroy, Dallas senior Tyler Yates and Waco senior Elizabeth Joyce join their fellow Baylor Democrats along with The Baylor Republicans and Young Conservatives to watch President Barack Obama's first State of the Union Address live on television Wednesday evening in the Cashion Academic Center.

By Katy McDowall

The department of political science, Baylor Democrats and College Republicans held a watch party and post-speech forum Wednesday night for President Obama's first State of the Union Address, sparking lively discussion between students and professors.

Obama spoke about the economy, the war in Iraq, education reform, the need for clean energy and a number of other subjects.

Following the address, Dr. Gayle Avant, an associate professor in the political science department, and Dr. John Pisciotta, an associate professor in the economics department, led a discussion about the speech.

"I would call President Obama a progressive and a progressive is someone who believes that government can do good (and) can make the lives of people better," Pisciotta said. "People like Thomas Jefferson and myself believe government should do very little."

This speech was important for Obama because this is a challenging time for Democrats, Avant said.

"This is Obama's first State of the Union message and it's occurring immediately after an election of a Republican senator from Massachusetts who is strongly opposed to Obama's health care initiative," Avant said.

Obama needs to draw attention away from health care, which has consumed the public for the last 10 or 12 months, and focus on putting jobs and the economy in the foreground, said Dr. Martin Medhurst, distinguished professor of rhetoric and communication and professor of political science.

"It's important politically because Obama's agenda hangs in the balance, especially his health care agenda," Medhurst said.

Pisciotta said Obama needs to make a double pivot. The first pivot is away from health care and towards job correction, and the second pivot is towards private enterprise.

"He's really at a junction in his presidency, in which, certainly, the high hopes have not been realized and some pretty big setbacks have happened in the last couple of months," Pisciotta said. "He's one year in and this would be an opportunity to find some things to turn it around."

Seated in front of two large screens, students were able to watch the address, and then take part in discussion.

"It's kind of nice to watch the same thing and hear everyone's opinions afterwards," said Allison Winney College Republicans President and San Antonio junior.

Watching professors Avant and Pisciotta debate is interesting because it's not something students get to see in a classroom setting, Winney said.

"Professor Pisciotta and I have been doing this for four years," Avant said. "We both know and like each other. We don't agree on much politically, but we are friends."

Previous watch parties have not been that interesting, but due to the timing of this address, there is a lot of interest, Pisciotta said.

"It's an opportunity for students to interact," Pisciotta said. "You can watch on TV and see what other people think, and they really turn out to be very lively events."

Lively discussion ensued, especially with regard to Obama's statements regarding the paying off of student loans.

Obama stated that college students' loans would be forgiven after 20 years, but for those working in public service jobs it would be lowered to 10 years, a statement that greatly bothered Pisciotta.

"Not only would your loans be forgiven after 20 years, but if you went into public service your loan would be forgiven after 10 years," Pisciotta said. "If you happen to be in the Hankamer School of Business, you lucky schmuck, you have to pay for 20 years. "

Some students pointed out, however, that public service jobs receive lower pay than other occupations.

"My goal is to incite civic participation in students and kind of take away the general ambience of apathy that exists in the Baylor population," said Galveston senior Oscar Boleman, president of the Baylor Democrats.

Obama's announcement that the law banning gay Americans from fighting for their country will be repealed this year was met with enthusiastic applause from a number of students in attendance.

"If we don't get this deficit under control, your futures are severely threatened," Pisciotta said.