Baylor Presidential Rhetoric Expert on State of the Union Address: Obama Has Opportunity To Right Political Ship

January 27, 2010
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Dr. Martin J. Medhurst, professor of political science and Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Communication at Baylor University.

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The 2010 State of the Union address may be THE most important speech of President Barack Obama's career. The reason is simple - his presidency hangs in the balance, says Dr. Martin J. Medhurst, co-director of and Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Communication at Baylor University in Texas.

Having spent most of the last nine months pushing his signature issue of health care reform, the president now finds himself at a political crossroads, Medhurst says. And many Americans who voted for him are asking, "What now?"

"With his filibuster-proof majority in the Senate gone and his Democratic colleagues in the House unwilling to adopt the Senate version of the health care reform bill, President Obama faces a crisis," Medhurst says. "He can fight on, retreat, or fold. My prediction is that he will retreat. He will say that mistakes have been made, but that the stakes are too high to simply give up."

Medhurst, who studies U.S. presidencies from a rhetorical perspective, expects the president to set forth - once again - the health care challenges facing the nation, especially their long-term financial dimensions. Solutions must be found, but they must be solutions that the majority endorses. Medhurst says to accomplish this most difficult task, the president may appoint a blue-ribbon panel of Republicans and Democrats to try to fashion a compromise bill - one that could draw the support of a super majority.

"This will, of course, take time, and so President Obama will, for the moment, set the health care debate to the side through this or some similar mechanism that will take the issue off of the front burner and put it on the back burner - still on the stove, but not so hot politically," Medhurst says.

In the meantime, Medhurst believes President Obama will pivot to jobs and the economy: proposing new mechanisms of reducing the unemployment rate and getting people back to work, identifying with the middle-class Americans who are struggling financially, attacking the big banks and financial titans.

"The president will emphasize 'pocketbook issues,' which his fellow Democrats want to run on in November," Medhurst says. "He will assume a populist stance as the defender and advocate of the person on Main Street."

Other issues normally found in State of the Union addresses will be severely curtailed or dropped altogether, Medhurst says.

"Obama has one chance to right his political ship of state. Failure to do so in the State of the Union address could spell doom to his entire first term," he says.

Medhurst's web site - - provides news, information and resources for those interested in the study of the presidency from a rhetorical perspective. Focusing largely on contemporary presidential issues, assists researchers in locating recent information relating to American presidents, political communication and rhetorical criticism.

Dr. Martin J. Medhurst can be reached at Baylor University at (254) 710-7840 or His web site is

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275