Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

On WGBH: Der Derian and Widmer Critique Obama's Address

January 29, 2010

Photo: White House

America will not take second place to its competitors in the global economy, President Obama said this week – a statement perhaps more patriotic than realistic, according to Institute Professor James Der Derian. Today, “nation-states aren’t as powerful in calling the shots, particularly in the global economy. No one nation-state can now determine these incredible spasms and tidal waves that ripple through the system … and to claim that we have control over the international arena has an illusionary component to it,” he said in an NPR interview analyzing Obama’s State of the Union Address.

Obama was “throwing red meat” to the domestic audience with such a promise, agreed Der Derian and fellow guest Ted Widmer, a former presidential speechwriter and director of Brown University’s John Carter Brown Library. In a speech that was light on international issues, “there were moments where he expressed deep belief in the international system and then other moments when he went back into throwing red meat,” Widmer said.

In addressing domestic issues, “if there was a master narrative, it was that ‘this isn’t a game,’” Der Derian said. “The media is treating it as a game. The politicians on two sides of the aisle are treating it as a game. He’s trying to bring an element of seriousness. But then when he went to the global arena, then he did talk in the language of games.”

Internationally, he added, Obama was conveying that “it’s OK to bluster and to insist on the United States always being the one,” even though “within the United States we have to get out of this sort of gamesmanship.”