Inside the Beltway: White House culture gets even odder

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Gravitas and serious-minded strategies at the White House appear to be giving way to entertainment as the State of the Union approaches. Though the American public is eager for straight answers on many topics, behind-the-scenes creative folk on President Obama’s staff have crafted jaunty promotions for the annual primetime speech on Tuesday night.

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, cartoonlike 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.

“On Wednesday, with a nod to history (and maybe the TV show the West Wing), the Obama administration is hosting 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 everyday Americans in real-time on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and via Google+ Hangout.”

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.”

AMERICANS TEPID ON THE STATE OF THE UNION

Though Organizing for America and other pro-White House groups are busy organizing State of the Union “watch parties” around the nation, the speech is not exactly galvanizing the viewing public who appear just so-so on SOTU, the standard acronym for the annual event. Just 28 percent say they definitely plan to watch President Obama’s address, according to a new Harris poll. That includes 26 percent of Republicans and 36 percent of more loyal Democrats.

Another 40 percent overall give a “maybe” answer 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.”

THE FIVE CRUZ QUESTIONS

“It no longer seems like Washington is protecting America. Washington is protecting Washington,” says Sen. Ted Cruz, who also notes that the State of the Union address is a perfect opportunity for President Obama to counter impressions that the White House is no longer accountable to a concerned nation. The Texas Republican says things could improve should Mr. Obama answer the following five questions during his speech, as worded by the lawmaker:

Will the president allow the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to fully investigate the IRS’ illegal targeting of conservatives?

Will the president act to ensure that the privacy of law-abiding citizens is protected from unjustifiable violations by arms of the federal government?

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