George Mason Students Encouraged By Speech
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Some of the president's strongest supporters during the long election campaign were college students. We wondered how he's doing with that group now. NPR's Linda Wertheimer went to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia to watch the president's speech with a collection of students from the political science department.
LINDA WERTHEIMER: Our group of students mostly voted for President Obama and mostly liked his speech. The emphasis on education and repeated references to responsibility resonated with them. Before the president's speech, Ethan Vaughn, who's a junior from Baltimore, talked about the tone the president should take.
Mr. ETHAN VAUGHN (Student, George Mason University): I want him to be honest. I don't want him to sugarcoat it, because if he does that, the Bush administration did that a lot and let a lot of people down. Iraq is probably the perfect example of that. This is going to very hard. The American people need to know what to expect, and I really truly believe if we can hear it truthfully and we know what we need to brace ourselves for, we can make it through.
WERTHEIMER: After listening to the president, Ethan said he got what he wanted.
Mr. VAUGHN: I thought he did really, really well. And the part of the speech that really stood out for me was when he harkened back to our history and he said we've been innovators. We invented solar technology, and we can lead the world in solar technology and automobile technology. I think if you give Americans a mission, they come together to achieve it. And I think that's what he started to do tonight.
WERTHEIMER: The biggest criticism: The president provided few specifics. Many of these students, including some of Mr. Obama's strongest supporters, don't like the idea of large amounts of taxpayer money going to bailouts, either to banks or automakers. J.P. Manson is working on his master's degree. He agreed with the president's statement about the auto industry's years of bad decisions, but he wanted more details about what the president actually intends to do.
Mr. J.P. MANSON (Student, George Mason University): He came at the issue from both sides, as he so often does, and leading me to conclude I'm not sure what he's going to do. If he can strike a mix between kind of motivating them and also allowing them to, at least to an extent, suffer the consequences of their poor decisions. So he's going to have a tough choice, kind of driving down the middle.
WERTHEIMER: Others wanted to know more about plans to cut deficits, about Wall Street bonuses, about money to be spent on public works. Some had doubts about the size of the president's stimulus package. Katherine Conlan(ph) is a freshman from Arlington, majoring in history and music. Before the president spoke, Katherine said she'd like the idea that this president was willing to try new things to solve the country's economic problems.
Ms. KATHERINE CONLAN (Student, George Mason University): I'd rather have a president who's willing to try a lot of things and recognize his failures than to stubbornly keep going on the same path, even through his failure.
WERTHEIMER: Many of the students gathered in Mason Hall thought the president's speech was inspiring. Even students who were critical said they were impressed. One young woman said she wanted to hear a serious talk, but hoped for a little bit of silver lining. She said she got both those things. Katherine Conlan suggested that one of the things she liked about the talk was that it was given by a new president.
Ms. CONLAN: First of all, it was a very good speech. I liked that he never really played the blame game. And I also enjoyed the fact that it was a State of the Union address where I didn't hear 9/11 over and over again, because I got really tired of hearing that over the years.
WERTHEIMER: Our thanks to the students and faculty of the political science department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. I'm Linda Wertheimer, NPR News.
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