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Elginites moved by president’s refrain: ‘They deserve a vote’

JudsUniversity professor history Dr. Craig Kaplowitz delivers brief lecture context Cold War during World Leaders Forum university ElgIll. Saturday April

Judson University professor of history Dr. Craig Kaplowitz delivers a brief lecture on the context of the Cold War during the World Leaders Forum at the university in Elgin, Ill. on Saturday, April 21, 2012.

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Updated: March 15, 2013 1:14PM

ELGIN — As President Barack Obama began his State of the Union address Tuesday night, more than a dozen people gathered around the two flatscreen TVs behind the bar at Elgin Public House.

Those TVs weren’t tuned to Obama’s speech, but to the Blackhawks game; the music and the menu at the downtown eatery reflected not the political event but the last night of Mardi Gras.

But Elginites who watched the speech live agreed it was the president who won the night with an emotional refrain calling for Congress to vote on the proposals he made last month to reduce gun violence.

“The refrain of ‘They deserve a vote’ is what people are going to remember,” said Craig Kaplowitz, a professor of history at Judson University in Elgin.

That’s because, Kaplowitz said, “He wasn’t pushing policy agenda, he was pushing a procedure. We vote on these things in America.”

The professor said the opening of Obama’s speech was “interesting,” listing several accomplishments that felt “anti-previous administration” before he even got to “The state of our union is strong.”

That included the return of all troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year and the creation of more than six million new jobs, the president said. Americans also are buying more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in 20, he said.

Still, Kaplowitz said, Obama “didn’t come across as very partisan.”

The president didn’t give a “grand vision for who we are and who we need to be,” either, he said. No president has for a long time, he added — something he’ll discuss later with his students at Judson.

“The State of the Union speeches are a wonderful opportunity to get a sense of who are we according to this president. It’s not a campaign, and it’s not trying to defeat somebody,” he said.

The professor said he was impressed during the presidential election by how many students were interested and gathered to watch debates, even when they can watch such events anytime on the Internet. That’s convenient, but it means “losing that common national experience,” he said.

Meantime, Laurie-Faith Gibson of Elgin said the Internet enhanced that common experience for her, as it has the past five years: She streamed the president’s speech on her computer, following discussions on Bing and and sharing her own reactions on Twitter.

“To be honest, I enjoy watching these things, especially with social media. When I watch them live, I can interact with people, and it makes them more enjoyable,” Gibson said.

She tweeted the president’s story about a 102-year-old woman who waited in line hours to vote moved her to tears and expressed support for the president’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn just proposed raising that number to $10 in his State of the State last week.

She also said she thought the president’s plan to simplify refinancing for homeowners would have the greatest impact locally in Elgin. And she stressed, “We need to support the vets as well — care and jobs.”

Of course, Gibson admitted, she also had on the Blackhawks game in the background.

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