State of the Union: Looking Inward

Doha, QatarJanuary 25, 2012 – In his State of the Union address, US President Barack Obama indicated that he will be focusing his attention on internal problems over foreign affairs this election season, said political communication expert Betty Winfield. She made the remarks at a discussion with journalism and communication students at Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q).

“This election year, the American people are less concerned about foreign affairs and more concerned about the struggling US economy” said Winfield, who is a distinguished Curator’s Professor emerita at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and has written extensively on topics including mass media history and White House communication, and the relationships between US presidents, first ladies and the media. She added that “the president spoke to those concerns last night, leaving very little time for discussion of foreign policy. Unless Syria spirals out of control or some other major conflict or disturbance comes up, you can expect the president and his Republican challengers to stay focused on the economy and other domestic issues this election season,”

Winfield met with media students in Professor Sean Burns’ American Politics class to discuss the timely topic, “Going Public: Understanding the President’s State of the Union Message.” Her lecture examined the political tactics employed by President Obama in his address to the American public yesterday.  As a massive media event –over 40 million Americans watched the State of the Union live on Tuesday– the address was President Obama’s opportunity to bypass media interpretation and state his case directly to the people.

His speech seemed to indicate a less overtly forceful American presence overseas and a redirecting of resources to domestic spending. She noted that with the U.S. Iraq war officially over, Obama had even discussed downsizing the American military, and using the money for much needed infrastructure and development projects in the US.

Winfield also noted that fear often plays a significant role in US presidential politics. Last election cycle, as the first African-American presidential nominee from a major party, Obama faced fears from some Americans that he was an “outsider” who could not be trusted. Now, the American people are more fearful for their own jobs, livelihoods, and prosperity.

NU-Q dean and CEO Everette E. Dennis commented, “As an eminent journalist and media historian, Professor Betty Winfield is an excellent resource for our students on the complicated nexus between media and politics. Our aim in bringing such distinguished speakers from across the academic spectrum to NU-Q is to supplement our students’ education with exposure to leading thinkers from around the world.”