President Barack Obama came to Georgetown Tuesday morning to deliver an address on the state of the economy and his administration’s economic initiatives. Although the event was only announced a day before, Gaston Hall, which has a capacity of 743, was packed with Georgetown students and staff, local activists, and prominent Washingtonians.
Obama began the speech by outlining the genesis of the financial crisis, explaining how the collapse of the housing market wreaked havoc on the financial sector, which had accumulated wealth based on packaging toxic mortgages into securities. He then went on to explain the logic behind his administration’s economic policies, particularly the stimulus package and the aid to banks and insurance agencies.
“Economists on both the left and right agree that the last thing a government should do in the middle of a recession is to cut back on spending,” Obama said in the speech. “[I]f every family in America cuts back, then no one is spending any money, which means there are more layoffs, and the economy gets even worse. That’s why the government has to step in and temporarily boost spending in order to stimulate demand. And that’s exactly what we’re doing now.”
Obama transitioned to his future plans by recounting a parable from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which one house built on a pile of sand collapses at the first storm while another built on a rock withstands the rain and winds. Instead of rebuilding the American economy on the same pile of sand, Obama argued, the country must instead create a new, more solid foundation built on five pillars: new rules for Wall Street, investment in education, investment in renewable energy and technology, a new healthcare system, and a reduction of federal debt.
Though the University announced the speech only a day in advance while many students were traveling back to campus from Easter break, there was still an overwhelming demand from the Georgetown community for tickets. According to Andy Pino, Georgetown’s Director of Media Relations, “thousands” registered for the lottery.
Pino said more than half the approximately 750 attendees were Georgetown students, faculty, and staff. The crowd also included several VIPs, including District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty (D), AOL Time Warner chairman Steve Case, and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis.
For Fitz Lufkin (COL ’11), Vice President of the College Democrats, the opportunity to see Obama speak in person for the first time, after spending months campaigning on his behalf this fall, was “very special.”
“I was ecstatic,” he said. “I think everyone is very happy that the President chose Georgetown to make such an important address. We were all really happy and honored.”
Some Catholic anti-abortion activists took issue with Georgetown hosting Obama, arguing that his pro-choice policies put him at odds with Catholic doctrine.
“Georgetown is behaving like a harlot,” Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, a pro-life organization, said. “Obama is at war with the Catholic church. He is trying to subjugate her. He is involved in the ravishing of Catholic orthodoxy, and Georgetown has become his willing mistress.”
Terry and a handful of other activists protested near the front gates Tuesday morning, yelling slogans like “Obamanomics! A new economy fueled on dead babies!”
A group of Georgetown students organized a pro-choice counter-protest to “make sure that their message was being challenged,” according to Mara Hollander (COL ’12), who organized the event.
The two sets of protesters were also joined by a contingent of anti-war activists, including members of CODEPINK.
“Georgetown both needs to prize and build upon its Catholic and Jesuit identity, and I believe it does that in a variety of very vibrant, very engaging ways,” Todd Olson, Vice President of Student Affairs, said. “It is also a university and a marketplace of ideas, and it’s a place where speakers with a wide range of views and a wide range of perspectives are welcome and are part of the conversation. That’s one of the commitments we make, is to be both enthusiastically Catholic and enthusiastically a university.”