Students cheer, boo during annual speech

Amy Hackbarth

On a quiet Tuesday night at Stub and Herb’s, a handful of people huddled around the bar in relative silence. Below them, 50 University students jostled and shouted for elbow room in the basement, eager to watch President George W. Bush deliver the State of the Union address on the basement’s single television screen.

Members of the College Republicans and the University DFL cheered and booed during Bush’s annual speech, the 215th in the nation’s history.

“It’s a big year,” said College Republicans President Tyler Richter. “There is a lot at stake.”

Bush’s speech, sandwiched between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, had clear political motivations, said Larry Jacobs, a Humphrey Institute professor.

“The opening third to a half was a detailed response to the main criticisms that the Democrats have been making for months,” he said.

In his address, Bush outlined his views on the war on terror and the recovering economy. He also spoke against gay marriage and advocated work permits for immigrants who come to the United States looking for jobs no Americans will take.

Among his higher education proposals, Bush pitched larger Pell Grants for college students who took challenging classes in high school. His education plan also pushes for more Advanced Placement classes.

Bush also called for $250 million to finance partnership programs between business and community colleges, $100 million for reading programs in schools and $120 million to boost math education.

Glenn Maharaj, a University mechanical engineering graduate, agreed there is a need for job training, but he said Bush’s plan wouldn’t solve the problem. He said community colleges might not train people for jobs substantial enough to support their families and that many people have stopped looking for work.

“He can praise the economy, but jobs are what count,” he said while watching the address from a lounge in Coffman Union with a dozen students and faculty members.

U-DFL President Austin Miller said he wished Bush had addressed higher education issues in more detail, but he wasn’t expecting much.

“I think everyone knew that wasn’t going to be the emphasis of the night,” Miller said.

University student Chris Hill, on the other hand, said he was happy Bush’s address kept the federal government mostly out of the education system.

“There are so many issues that interest me more,” the aerospace engineering senior said.

Hill pointed to Bush’s foreign policy stance and his proposal to promote abstinence to teenagers in high schools as examples.

“It’s something I wish the federal government wouldn’t do,” Hill said of the abstinence program, “but it’s something that needs to be done.”

Although the timing of Bush’s speech indicates a focus on the approaching presidential elections, Hill said he thought the intent behind the address was honorable.

“If anything, it wasn’t a political move for re-election,” he said. “It was a move to get these policies noticed. It was an issues speech.”

To Jacobs, however, the whirlwind of ideas and escalating political speeches indicated the beginning of a new season.

“Clearly the presidential election has begun,” he said.

– Geoff Ziezulewicz contributed to this article.