President Obama visits Boise to Reiterate State of the Union message
By Zach Hagadone
It took about three hours for tickets to run out when they were offered free of charge in the days leading up to President Barack Obama’s Jan. 21 appearance at Boise State University. All told, 6,600 people turned out to see the president as he swung through the capitol in the first of several city stops following his Jan. 20 State of the Union address. Lines of eager spectators snaked through the campus, some sporting signs advocating for the establishment of a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument, others protesting against the Keystone XL Pipeline, and still others wearing bright yellow shirts in support of Saeed Abedini, the Iranian-American pastor from Boise who has been detained in Iran since 2012 on charges of proselytizing.
Obama, who last visited Idaho during a campaign visit to Boise in 2008, told the crowd that “incredible work” had been done in the state during his first run for office.
“And the truth is … it helped us win the primary. And I might not be president if it weren’t for the good people of Idaho. Of course, in the general election I got whupped. I got whupped twice, in fact. But that’s OK—I’ve got no hard feelings,” he said.
Obama used his crushing 2008 defeat to John McCain in Idaho—where McCain won by a more than 25 percent margin—as the springboard to his remarks, mostly echoing the message he delivered in his State of the Union the night before.
“In fact, that’s exactly why I’ve come back,” he said. “Because I ended my speech last night with something that I talked about in Boston just over a decade ago, and that is there is not a liberal America or a conservative America, but a United States of America.”
The theme of unity played a central part in the president’s speech in Boise, stressing that despite the fact that in “places like Idaho, the only ‘blue’ turf is on your field [referring to Boise State’s famous “Smurf Turf”],” Americans have “a core of decency and desire to make progress together.”
Obama revisited many of the same themes of his State of the Union—a growing economy, comparatively robust job growth, a two-thirds reduction in the deficit, increased energy production and an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—but his remarks in Boise dwelled decidedly more on income inequality.
“Are we going to accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?” he asked to a resounding “No,” from the audience. “Or can we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and opportunities for everybody who’s willing to try hard? …
“Let’s close the loopholes that led to the top 1 or .1 or .01 percent to avoid paying certain taxes and use that money to help more Americans pay for college and child care,” he added later in his remarks. “The idea is, let’s have a tax code that truly helps working Americans, the vast majority of Americans, get a leg up in the new economy.”
On the subject of the “new economy,” Obama reiterated his commitment to free-of-cost community college and expanded investment in technology research and development—specifically, the kind of work being done by engineering and science students at Boise State.
“You’re the cutting-edge of innovation,” he said. “I had a chance to tour your New Product Development lab, and I’ve got to say this was not the stuff I was doing in college.”
Obama went on to outline technology like 3-D printing, a Boise area company working on high-performance motorcycles and research into next-generation materials like graphene, “which is thinner than paper and strong than steel,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
Despite the president’s repeated references to unity, he saved some barbs aimed at Republicans until the end of his remarks, noting that he “could see that from their body language,” they did not agree with his proposals.
“Most of these are ideas that traditionally were bipartisan,” he said. “But watching last night, some of you may have noticed, Republicans were not applauding for many of these ideas. …
“If they do disagree with me, then I look forward to hearing from them how they want to pay for things like R&D and infrastructure that we need to grow,” he added later. “They should put forward some alternative proposals.”
The speech reached its climax as Obama challenged the now Republican-controlled Congress to tell him “how we get to ‘yes.’”
“Work with, come on, don’t just say no,” he said to roaring applause. “You can’t just say no.”
When an audience member shouted “Si, se puede,” Obama responded, “Si, se puede. Yes, we can.”
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