Political Science Faculty Sound Off on State of the Union


Sean Lee

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

University of North Dakota


Think of Associate Professor Robert Wood as the Dr. House of politics.

As a political scientist, Wood can give meaning to even the smallest of subtleties.

On Tuesday, Dr. Wood boiled down President Obama’s State of the Union address to one simple concept: unity. “It really surprised me how much [Obama] was reaching out toward the Republicans. It’s a speech that George Bush could have given,” Wood said. “If this is a signal, he’s clearly triangulating toward the middle.”

President Obama touched on many issues in the annual address to a joint session of Congress. The issue of higher education hit close to home for many UND students. “I haven’t seen a president put this much emphasis on education,” Wood said. “To plea directly to an entire generation looking for a way to serve (their) country ... That’s a classic line that is going to resonate with a good chunk of the electorate.”

“[The speech] was certainly more visionary than what we’ve seen in past speeches,” Wood said.

The newest addition to the Political Science and Public Administration Department echoed Dr. Wood’s thoughts.

“I find it interesting that President Obama placed so much emphasis on encouraging innovation and private business,” Lecturer Angela Narasimhan said. “I think it's an important step to reach across the aisle and acknowledge widespread concern among Americans with our ability to compete with nations like India and China.”

“Obama reminded us of the reasons why our nation has endured for so long,” Narashimhan said. “He reminds us that our country is inherently safer, with cleaner food, better environmental protection, and a stronger rule of law than many others because of the federal government's ability to regulate business and protect citizens.”

Back to the basics - seating assignments

Perhaps it was the somber event in Arizona just weeks ago that finally inspired Congress to take action, but the attitude in the chamber has clearly shifted to that of cooperation.

In a show of unity, congressional members were encouraged to “pair up” with a member opposite of their own party.

Wood said, “[Congress] is trying to create the appearance, whether it’s real or not, that they are willing to sit down together and look past individual differences to compromise on the things they can compromise on. I’ve never seen them sit together like this.”

The result - a chamber filled with very unique pairings. “It’s usually very theatrical,” Wood said. “Usually you’ll have Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other.”

“Optimism is rising,” Wood speculated. “Public opinion polls in December were very rancorous. Now the president’s approval ratings are rising, in some cases by 20 points.”

Professor Wood has his students of his POLS 432 class craft their very own “State of the Union” address through a semester-long project.

Simulating the workings of the White House Office, students are split up into several different policy councils who share jurisdiction over various economic, political and social issues affecting the United States. Those policy councils then report to the class Chief of Staff who makes recommendations, add lines to the “president’s” (played by Dr. Wood) State of the Union address at the end of the semester.

The result - a lesson in analysis. Dr. Wood wants his students to learn that the State of the Union is essentially a series of signals by the president; some subtle, some not.

“Students should recognize that the speech is to signal to Congress the agenda items the president will be pursuing,” Wood said. “They should get a sense of the level of priority of each item in the president’s speech.”

In the end, the general populous hopes change takes hold. “Members of Congress have definitely received the message that bipartisanship is what the people want,” Wood said. “The message over the last three elections have all been the same from the people - stop doing things the way you’ve been doing with divisiveness and come together and solve problems.”