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Obama strikes chord locally

BY ANNA LOTHSON | FEBRUARY 25, 2009 7:39 AM

President Obama on Tuesday stressed to members of Congress and the American people that the solution to the nation’s many economic challenges lies within reach — something two UI faculty members say brought a positive tone to the president’s address, his first to a joint session of Congress.

Calling on Americans to “confront boldly the challenges we face,” Obama framed a slew of topics ranging from the economic pitfalls to health-care concerns in his 52-minute speech.

“He’s taking the problem very seriously,” said UI College of Business Associate Dean Charles Whiteman, who noted that he believes Obama showed his plans carry real possibility. “It was being addressed in a very forceful and forthright way.”

But the speech was very positive — certainly an decision by Obama to boost the people’s spirits, Whiteman said.

Whiteman, also a professor of economics, said he was delighted with how Obama emphasized the importance of getting funds flowing in the stimulus package — which he called not simply another bank-bailout plan.

Obama’s speech was heavily weighted toward the credit crunch, which, Whiteman said, he was surprised about even in the time of economic crisis.

“It was a little wonkish,” he said, but added the credit discussion may have been given a disproportional weight.

“It was not really the time for specifics,” Whiteman said, and it is difficult for people to understand the complexity of many issues associated with the banking crisis.

Whiteman’s only criticism was that Obama didn’t offer more emphasis on what steps are being made next in regard to the stimulus package.

Political-science Associate Professor Tim Hagle agreed, saying he would have liked to see more direction as to what is next, but he understood the difficulty to do so in this type of speech.

In a joint-session speech, he pointed out, it is not unusual for the president’s address to became more geared toward the American people rather than members of Congress.

This may have been an effort for Obama to show a positive attitude exuded in his campaign, Hagle said.

“It was not as doom and gloom as some other stuff has been,” he said.

Hagle said the speech showed the American public it’s time to “roll up our sleeves, pitch in, and realize we can get out of this.”

Despite the positive nature of the speech, he said, he didn’t think Obama broke across party lines in the address.

“It was more aimed at his base,” he said. “It did enough to keep some Republicans on the edge of their seats.”

UI sophomore Alyce Arnold said she thought the speech was a good mixture between showing the magnitude of the situation and hope for the future.

Rather than just talking about the large sum of money, she said, she thought Obama did well laying out which issues were critical in the stimulus plan.

Fellow UI sophomore Caity Francomb said she thought Obama carried the same vibrancy shown in his campaign.

She was worried when Obama took office that he would lose some of his passion, she said, but said he showed he was not another “stuffy old president.”

UI freshman Mara Van Buer said watching Obama’s address showed “he gets it,” emphasizing his care for the average American.

“He knows the road ahead for economics, health care, and education won’t be fixed overnight,” she said.

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