In typical Yale Political Union fashion, both loud hisses and applause erupted at viewing parties of President George W. Bush’s ’68 State of the Union address on Monday night.
Yale students representing all parts of the political spectrum — from the Tory Party to the Party of the Left — met to watch the president outline his plans for education, the Middle East, earmark spending and the economy. Although the students interviewed mostly agreed with each other on certain points of the speech, such as in their negative reactions to the president’s mention of the No Child Left Behind Act, viewers’ reactions generally split along party lines.
About four dozen YPU members watched the speech at two different viewing parties, one sponsored by the Independent Party and the other sponsored by the Party of the Left and the Tory Party.
Viewers said Bush’s speech was better than his address from the previous year in its directness and quality of writing. In general, right-leaning members said they agreed with more of Bush’s points than they usually do, while left-leaning members said they objected to fewer of his ideas than normal.
Indeed, students also said they thought the speech contained fewer controversial claims than in the past and more statements that were difficult to disagree with, including his assertion that American casualties in Iraq have decreased since the beginning of the military “surge” last January. But some students said they think Bush provided few suggestions for improvement in areas such as the war in Iraq.
“[Bush is] kind of desperate,” said Alyssa Bernstein ’10, who attended the Independent Party viewing. “I liked more than usual what he was saying.”
Bush’s reference to recent medical technological innovations — such as the successful recreation of adult stem cells, which may obviate the need to use embryonic stem cells — brought quiet agreement from spectators in both rooms. Conservative- and liberal-minded individuals agreed that this compromise is a positive development.
Bush’s suggestions for earmark reform — he proposed vetoing any bill that did not cut the number and cost of earmarks in half — also found broad support among members of the viewing parties.
Not all of the president’s statements received such broad support, however. Viewers at both parties started hissing at the mention of the No Child Left Behind Act; in his speech, Bush called on Congress to strengthen the legislation.
Beyond substantial issues, several students said the tone of the speech was that of a president looking “sadly” back on his presidency.
“The speech felt like a last hurrah,” Alexander Martone ’10 said at the Party of the Left viewing. “It was bittersweet.”
At the Independent Party viewing, Sofia Medina ’09 said she thinks Bush was simply tempering his speech to adjust to his relative lack of power as an outgoing president with a low approval rating.
“It seems the politics in the country have changed to such an extent that his sticking to the same script is not possible,” she said. “I could tell he was moderating his positions to adjust to that shift. He showed how little power he has with his speech.”
But Fernando Reyes ’10 said he was surprised by the broad appeal of Bush’s speech. He said that in this more “moderate” address, the president articulated his positions better than in the past.
“This is George W. Bush. This is the conservative Christian who believes in democracy,” Reyes said.
Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius delivered the Democratic response shortly after Bush finished his speech.
-Aaron Bray contributed reporting.