Political-minded Yalies joined the nation Wednesday night to watch President George W. Bush ’68 fulfill his constitutional responsibility to report on the state of the union, but their opinions remain divided over the president’s recommendations for America over the next few years.
While Bush’s speech included items designed to appeal to both conservatives and liberal viewers, neither members of the Yale College Republicans nor of the Yale College Democrats said they expected the president’s words to result in much compromise.
The Dems threw a party in the Branford College TV Room to watch the state of the union, which Vice President Brett Edkins ’06 called a “well-crafted speech focusing on domestic issues.” But whatever their opinions of the speech’s craftsmanship, both Edkins and fellow Democrat Alan Kennedy-Shaffer ’06 said they were more worried about the president’s policies than his rhetoric.
“I think everyone’s gut reaction was that ‘we like the words Bush is using, like freedom and liberty and democracy, but we recognize that nearly all of Bush’s policies are undermining those ideals,’” Kennedy-Shaffer said.
While Democrats like Edkins and Kennedy-Shaffer remain skeptical about the president’s agenda in the upcoming years, others, like Al Jiwa ’06, the president of the College Republicans, said they felt Bush’s speech was a powerful follow-up to his inaugural address, charting a sound course for American domestic and foreign policy.
“I think he did a very good job of articulating some of his domestic priorities,” Jiwa said. “We’ve heard the rhetoric of the ownership society again and again, but him honing in on the specific elements of his domestic policy, especially on Social Security I thought was very good.”
Although his organization did not host a State of the Union party, Jiwa and many of his fellow conservatives, such as Zheyao Li ’06, treasurer of the Yale College Republicans, watched the speech from their dorm rooms.
While Li said the speech reached out simultaneously to the president’s conservative base and to the opposition party, Edkins said the speech’s contents were no indication of Bush’s actual intentions on certain controversial issues.
“The president paid lip service to the radical right again with the gay marriage amendment,” he said. “He also showed his moderate colors with … improved criminal defense for people on death row. But this is an administration that is probably the most political in history, so to say they’re going to reach across the aisle is a lot different from actually doing it.”
Yet Republicans such as Li say that, given the Republican domination of both the House and the Senate, Bush might not need a bipartisan coalition to accomplish his agenda, particularly on the subject of Social Security.
“I’m not sure if the president wants or needs to have a lot of Democratic support,” Li said. “I don’t feel that the Democrats, if they decide to play partisan politics as usual, will have much effect on the Social Security agenda.”
While Edkins admitted the two years until the next congressional election will be a difficult time for the Democratic party, he said he hopes that new leadership will be able to hold Bush accountable for his State of the Union rhetoric.
“The real test is going to be in the coming months, if the Democratic party can hold him accountable for all the promises he made tonight,” Edkins said. “I think that new leaders like Harry Reid and Howard Dean … because they’re people of strong convictions, will hold him accountable.”