Cheese and an 'enhanced experience': White House goes showbiz on the State of the Union address

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It’s a tough audience. The annual primetime State of the Union address is not exactly galvanizing the viewing public. Just 28 percent say they definitely plan to watch President Obama’s address on Tuesday evening, according to a new Harris poll. That includes 26 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of more loyal Democrats. Another 40 percent overall say “maybe” and less than a third a flat “no.”

And the biggest complaint about Mr. Obama, according to the survey of more than 2,000 respondents? Sixty percent agree that the president spends too much time talking and there isn’t enough action.”

What to do? Serious-minded strategies at the White House appear to be giving way to entertainment. Though worried Americans have multiple concerns over the economy, healthcare and other issues, behind-the-scenes creative folk on President Obama’s staff have responded with some jaunty promotions.

A video featuring doctored historic footage of past presidential addresses and vintage 1920s-era dance music pushes an “enhanced livestream” broadcast of Mr. Obama’s upcoming appearance. The amped up, online version is available to all who sign up and share their personal email at the White House website.

But the curious, cartoon-like rush to dull the serious edge of the occasion continues into Wednesday. Again, backstage creatives have also created something called “Big Block of Cheese Day” in the name of public transparency.

“President Obama has always been dedicated to the idea that the White House is truly ‘the people’s house’ and has worked to make 1600 Pennsylvania and his administration open and accessible. This isn’t a new idea, the same can be said of President Andrew Jackson,” reports Erin Lindsay, deputy director of online engagement for the White House Office of Digital Strategy.

Indeed, Jackson once hosted an open house in 1837 featuring a 1,400-pound block of cheese; thousands of citizens arrived “to interact with Cabinet members and White House staff - and carve off a slice of the four foot by two foot thick slab of cheddar,” Ms. Lindsay explains.

And so on Wednesday, the Obama administration hosts the first-ever virtual “Big Block of Cheese Day,” during which dozens of White House officials will take to social media for a daylong “open” house to answer questions from Americans. Yes, there’s a promotional cheese video. This one stars White House press secretary Jay Carney, some easy listening jazz and the phrase “code Gouda.”

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