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Coro Fellows
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Coro Fellows

As part of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs, these fellows are engaged in a full-time, nine-month, graduate-level leadership training program that prepares individuals for public-affairs leadership.


Question: From a leadership perspective--moving the country and the political process away from division and gridlock and toward consensus, confidence and action--how would you grade President Obama's State of the Union speech?

The following responses come from five of the fellows who make up the Coro Pittsburgh 2011 Class

Grade: B
Consensus building is a messy process. I have seen this within a team of just 12 individuals, let alone 535 voting members of Congress. From my experience, moving any group toward consensus requires both an honest wrangling over details and the timely reminder of a common objective. On the one hand, the president's remarks represent a timely and optimistic reminder of a unified vision, at one point labeled "a more competitive America," that likely appeals to Americans from both parties. The details, however, will play out in a Congress that is bitterly divided. Wednesday's political chats among neighbors may be more pleasant than usual, but the speech lacked the specifics needed to build consensus with House Republicans. - Charles Gamper

Grade: B+
Relative to his ground-breaking speeches of hope and change, President Obama's rhetoric tonight didn't evoke as much of a response in me as in previous instances. However, this may have been a tactical move on his part. Given that Obama is often criticized for his overuse of rhetoric and inability to communicate with the average American, I was surprised and impressed that his address focused less on language and more on laying out objective, clear and concise content accessible to everyone.

Unlike politics as usual, Obama's address spoke not just to the Republican party but to the American public at large, inciting us all to action. Obama was able to use the contentious issues affecting our country--including health-care reform, international competition and government inefficiencies--to challenge us to re-think our preconceived notions about opposing political parties and to collaborate for a more competitive, unified nation. While I was moved by the idea that America "does big things," I was left wondering, despite Obama's assessment of our union as "strong," where we are now as a country if we need to be convinced to work together and be inspired to take chances. - Rayva Virginkar

Grade: A
I was struck by the sober tone and the frank admission of domestic issues. And I am always heartened by calls to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans. - Trevor Croxson

Grade: B
The president continually referenced indisputable American values as the basis for the changes for which he advocates, a strategy he often uses. It usually garners emotional responses and positions the American people as stakeholders in policy discussions. After all, convincing the American people is half the battle.

Despite the president's respectable emphasis on recalibrating American values in light of the challenges of today, his speech alone does not give a complete picture of true leadership but merely reveals one aspect of it: envisioning the necessary change. In the past two years, President Obama has faltered in his ability to reinforce in the minds of Americans, throughout the deliberation process of policy proposals, that those changes for which he advocates are necessary. His inability to consistently remind the country of these core American values, specifically at times of direct opposition, and thereby rally the support of the American people all the way to policy implementation was not addressed. My fears were not assuaged. - Tosin Agbabiaka

Grade: B+
President Obama presented the bleak reality American people are facing in our global world. Addressing our constantly evolving challenges concerning our unstable economy, lack of social innovation, poor public education system and lack of strong immigration policy, President Obama presented the urgency for the American people to realistically assess the comprehensive health of the United States.

President Obama was less concerned with ideology and more focused on how to move the United States forward with identified solutions. President Obama did not shy away from ceasing domestic spending or fostering innovation. Nor did he ignore opposition to the health-care overhaul. He made it clear that must we face our problems. Obama challenged us to alter our basic understanding of being an American by developing our own rules. He charged us to challenge the traditional paradigm--of completing school, securing a career for twenty years and then retiring--that we have become accustomed to. In the same vein, he encouraged the American people to be receptive to changes if we are to be a major international player in a constantly evolving global society.

Understanding the political climate, President Obama was strategic in the content and delivery of his message. He put our challenges on the table and expects us to deal with them accordingly. There are no easy, quick fixes. Unlike Obama's past speeches, Tuesday's State of the Union address was marked more prominently by its emphasis on difficult conversations than it was by impassioned rhetoric. This, for me, is a demonstration of effective leadership. - Anthony E. Harbour

Return to all panelist responses

By Coro Fellows

 |  January 25, 2011; 11:48 PM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The president’s speech was uplifting, as always. The words, however, are just that. It’s time for our leaders to remember some basic service principles and work to truly create a culture of positive action for the people. This article (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-innovation/if-we-implement-them-all-you-have-not-succeeded) offers some insights.

Posted by: Julie-Ann1 | January 31, 2011 7:51 AM
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I'm grateful that our congressional elected officials came together under the historic Capitol building, and appeared united with Democrats and Republican sitting side-by-side. It disheartens me that a tragedy like the Arizona shooting is what it takes to bring our elected officials together, alas, let's get work together. I am reminded of my former boss, Evan Bayh. When he announced his retirement from the U.S. Senate last year, he wrote a letter to the public stating his reasons for moving on from Capitol Hill, however, he eluded to the point that long, gone are the days of his father, Senator Birch Bayh, when he could reach across the aisle to his Republican colleagues and ask "how can we help each other." It is my hope that through Obama's state of the union and now moving forward that we come together as one country -- and not polarized. We are a young country that still has much to learn.

Posted by: xuxazuzu | January 29, 2011 6:08 PM
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Is unity the same as consensus? If anything, it seems that consensus is impossible and is not a realistic goal. Maybe unity is all we can hope for. If we ask our leaders to try to please everyone, we will likely find that they please no one.

We should encourage our leaders to speak with their own voices and not simply be a mouthpiece for politically feasible solutions.

Posted by: emg1011 | January 26, 2011 1:04 PM
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