Despite a barren job market, young voters turned out in droves to re-elect President Barack Obama on November 4. Whether it was his efforts to bring down student loans, his stalwart support of gay marriage or his gung-ho efforts to combat climate change, something convinced 60 percent of voters between the ages of 18 to 29 that Obama deserves another four years as Commander in Chief. And judging Tuesday night's (February 12) State of the Union address, the POTUS is not planning on letting them down during round two.
In case you missed the speech — or if you were one of the millions who adopted the hashtag #ThingsIdRatherDoThanWatchSOTU — we've wrapped up the highlights, from Obama's specific plans to end the War in Afghanistan to his emotional tribute to the victims of recent shootings. But if you're looking for an even briefer version, take it from Obama: "The state of our union is strong."
Climate Change Is No 'Freak Coincidence'
After recent spikes in global temperatures and natural disasters galore, Obama had no qualms addressing climate change head-on. In fact, he made it quite clear that the whole thing isn't mere coincidence. And for anyone who stands in his way, take note: "If Congress won't act soon, I will."
"The fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15," he said. "Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods — all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science — and act before it's too late."
Obama laid out a challenge for the nation: Over the next 10 years, cut in half energy wasted by homes and business. The states with the best plans to make that happen will receive federal funding. (After all, if saving the planet doesn't motivate them, perhaps a little healthy competition will.)
Follow the "North Star"
Obama devoted much-needed attention to the nation's brittle economy. Even when tackling social issues like immigration, the country's economic hardships were at the heart of his plans. Deeming a growing economy America's "North Star," the president laid out a list of "unfinished tasks" that will ensure recovery. And he made one thing very clear: "It's not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government."
In fact, the POTUS claimed that his proposals won't increase the nation's deficit "by a single dime." But what, you ask, is Obama's idea of "smarter government"?
"Most Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents — understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share," Obama said, going on to emphasize that neither party "will get 100 percent of what we want," and calling to "get rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and well-connected."
Taking a Load Off Students' Shoulders
Among young voters' heaviest burdens is growing college debt, and that's something Obama made clear no one should have to carry on their own. Insisting quality education is the cornerstone of a strong economy, the president pledged on Tuesday night that he will make sure to bring down the "skyrocketing costs" that deter young people from college.
"Colleges must do their part to keep costs down, and it's our job to make sure they do," Obama said, before detailing his proposed changes to the Higher Education Act. Among the changes he's asking Congress for is to dole out federal aid to colleges based on affordability and value. He also laid out plans for a "College Scorecard," whereby parents and students can compare schools to find out "where you can get the most bang for your educational buck."
He added that he's also got a redesign of sorts cooking for America's high schools, one that will "better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy." That means creating classes focused science, technology, engineering, and math ("the skills today's employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future.")
"Our War in Afghanistan Will Be Over"
Among the most detailed plans Obama laid out Tuesday night was to bring home 34,000 more from Afghanistan over the next year. "And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over," Obama pledged, to a round of long-anticipated applause.
After that, America's involvement will not be null, but rather "the nature" will change. Instead, the United States will focus on "training and equipping Afghan forces" to avoid "chaos" and counter-terrorism efforts to track down the remnants of al Qaeda. He made it clear that "we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans."
"The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can — and will — insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people."
"They Deserve a Vote"
The emotional climax of Obama's mostly routine speech was undoubtedly near the end, dedicated to dozens of special members of the audience: Those "torn apart by gun violence," from Gabrielle Giffords to the families of the Newtown victims. In an emotional tribute of sorts that garnered a roar of somewhat chilly applause, the president urged that gun control proposals — be they background checks or outright bans on certain assault weapons — "deserve a vote."
"They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote," he said, solemn and stern. "The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote."
What did you think of Obama's State of the Union? Sound off in the comments!