Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thoughts on the State of the Union Address

Now that it's had a bit of time to sink in, here are our thoughts on the State of the Union address made Tuesday evening.

The following passages are the opinions of the authors alone and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated organizations.

Max's Take:
Science in the SOTU

Innovation is the light at the end of the tunnel for Obama. In his State of the Union speech, he spent an unprecedented amount of time discussing the role of science and research in leading the nation toward renewed prosperity. His remarks were undergirded by a fundamental belief in the societal benefits of science and pursuit of basic knowledge.

Even in the face of shifting national priorities and at a time when both sides of the isle are talking about cuts, Obama has been resolute in his support of science. This is especially striking given that many of the scientific investments being made today may not bear fruit in the short term, and probably not in time for the coming Presidential election.

Obama specifically mentioned the role of government support in the creation of the Internet, GPS, and computer chips. What other groundbreaking innovations should be included here? This is a tremendous opportunity for you to share how research has improved our world.

Heather's Impressions
Structural Integrity

By now you've read all of the promises about investing in biomedical research. Word is spreading far and wide about President Obama's call for innovation and more simply regulated salmon. Our Sputnik moment is upon us. And while others are discussing the verbage, I can't stop thinking about the construct.

I have a bit of a background in speechwriting and oral communications, so much of my time watching speeches is paying attention to rhetorical devices and style. Structurally, the president started with formalities and then led his content sections with science and education. Although I believe it is a priority for him - and that should be reflected in the upcoming budget as promised - I don't think that's why he led with it.

Science and education paved the way in the SOTU because they are topics everyone can get behind (as evidenced by years of public opinion data). No one wants America to be left behind. But it was more than just a warm-up; a unifying set of topics to bring on the applause.

Investment in research and innovation are about to face an epic fight for funding, and by framing it his way first, the president was attempting to counter early attacks. The position in the speech is just as important as the words he used.

As contradictions in the text of the speech already show, not everything mentioned on Tuesday night is going to happen. (I challenge anyone to find a SOTU where everything mentioned was actually accomplished as laid out in the speech.) However, that isn't the point of the SOTU. It's about goals, a vision, an ideal look at the future.

Beyond the structure of the speech is the structural integrity of its vision. Will the president be able to make his vision reality in the face of the worst economic situation since the Great Depression and a Congress with other plans? For the sake of science, I hope so.

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