Student Reaction to State of the Union Address

Students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., react to President Bush's State of the Union address. One in the mostly Democratic audience here says he heard nothing in the speech that gives him confidence in how the Iraq war is being handled.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News, I'm Linda Wertheimer.

President Bush travels to Nashville today to deliver the first of several speeches expanding the message he laid out last night in the State of the Union address.

This morning we get reaction to the president's speech from three different places. First in New Jersey where reporter Nancy Solomon watched the address with a group of students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

NANCY SOLOMON reporting:

The small office of the campus governing council is packed with students who are eager to hear the speech and eager to crack jokes.

(Soundbite of President George W. Bush's State of the Union address)

SOLOMON: The largely democratic bunch of the student government leaders say they're fairly representative of kids at Rutgers. Iraqi immigrant, Laith Faraj(ph), says he found the president's defense of the war in his home country too simplistic. He supports the removal of Saddam, but he didn't hear anything from the president that gives him confidence in how the war is being handled.

Mr. LAITH FARAJ (Student, Rutgers University): We didn't have to stay this long, for example. So many people didn't have to die. And I feel that's a point that, you know, he kind of skips over and says, well, we need to stay there.

Ms. JILLIAN CURTIS(ph) (Student senator, Rutgers University): I was surprised that he used the word isolationist.

SOLOMON: Jillian Curtis is a student senator and political science major.

Ms. CURTIS: I don't agree with pulling out of Iraq at this point, but I don't necessarily think that it would be considered isolationist in its traditional form. And I think he was trying to paint the Democrats as extremists and people who're trying to quit, when they're just really just trying to offer another option to the situation.

Mr. TONY JOYA(ph): I think the isolationism that he's talking about is targeted at people who think that we should pull out without finishing our objectives.

SOLOMON: Tony Joya is the odd man out in this crowd. He's a bit older, 29, because he served in the military first, and a conservative who was invited to join the discussion for the sake of political diversity. Joya did agree with the other students, however, in their concern over government spying and wiretaps on U.S. citizens. Dave Cole is the Rutger's Governing Council President.

Mr. DAVE COLE (President of the Rutgers College Governing Association): I think we can all agree that the expansion of the wiretapping program to domestic versus international calls is probably one of the most egregious abuses of presidential power we've seen in a very long time. And the thing that comes to mind to me would be when President Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus during the Civil War. But then that was done to keep the Union together. Certainly we're not at that dire of a situation to be making such abridgements on civil liberties.

SOLOMON: During the speech, the biggest uproar among the crowd came after President Bush defended the wiretapping, and the camera showed Hillary Clinton looking like the Cheshire cat. Clinton is a lightning rod here. The conservatives hate her, the liberal students, like Jillian Curtis and Cheryl Atma(ph), love her.

Ms. CHERYL ATMA (Student, Rutgers University): She's the last great hope for the democratic party.

Mr. COLE: She's beginning to embody opposition. And I think that many of us who are democrats in the room, feel that, you know, we need a strong opposition to a president who seems to assert that he has every single power in the constitution, including Congress power.

SOLOMON: To this overwhelmingly democrat crowd, they found little they admired in the speech. Except when politicians refused to stand up and applaud.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Solomon, in New Jersey.

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