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?

Will the president recognize that his economic policies have failed to create the millions of jobs that he promised and have, instead, reduced the labor force participation rate to its lowest level in decades?

Will the president call on Congress to form a Joint Select Committee to investigate the terrorist attack in Benghazi?

Will the president finally recognize that it was a mistake to ram through Obamacare on a party-line vote and that it is — right now — hurting millions of Americans?

LEERY OF THE CLINTON EQUATION

The prospect of a “President” Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016 inspires happy talk from her fans who anticipate that former President Bill Clinton is also part of the package. Alas. Some say this is not so happy. One lawmaker critical of the Bill/Hill combo has broached the past “predatory behavior” of Mr. Clinton, who would become the nation’s very first “first husband” should his spouse win the race.

Sen. Rand Paul has not forgotten Mr. Clinton’s dalliance with White House intern Monica Lewinsky 16 years ago that ultimately led to the president’s impeachment. The Kentucky Republican hopes voters will also recall those events, particularly in light of Democratic claims of a GOP “war on women,” among other things.

“One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn’t prey on young interns in their office. And I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this,” Mr. Paul told NBC on Sunday. “He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and it is predatory behavior.”

The lawmaker then chided the Democrats.

“They have the gall to stand up and say Republicans are having a war on women?” Mr. Paul demanded. “So yes, I think it’s a factor. Now, it’s not Hillary’s fault. But it is a factor in judging Bill Clinton in history. This is in regard to the Clintons: sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”

BIBLICAL GEOGRAPHY

Where are the most “Bible-minded” cities in America? The nation’s capital is not among them according to some telling findings from a research project by the American Bible Society and the Barna Group, a nonprofit research organization. The pair have tracked Bible reading habits and opinions of more than 45,000 people in a seven-year study period that ended in August. The question for respondents in 100 cities and metropolitan areas: How often do you read The Bible, and how “accurate” is the good book?

The findings: the most Bible-minded spot in America is Chattanooga, Tenn. — followed by Birmingham, Ala.; Roanoke Va.; Springfield, Mo., and Shreveport, La. The least Bible-minded is Providence, R.I., in 100th place.

Working up from the bottom, the aforementioned city is followed by Albany, N.Y.; Boston; San Francisco and Cedar Rapids, Iowa,

New York City is 89 on the list, and the original “Sin City” — Las Vegas — is 90. And Washington, D. C.? The capital city ranks 80th.

POLL DU JOUR

60 percent of Americans say the economic system in the U.S. “unfairly favors the wealthy”; 42 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Democrats agree.

60 percent overall say people can get ahead if they’re willing to work hard; 76 percent of Republicans and 49 percent of Democrats agree.

51 percent overall say people are or become “rich” because they had more advantages; 32 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats agree.

50 percent overall say people are or become “poor” because of circumstances beyond their control; 32 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats agree.

38 percent say people become rich because they worked harder than others; 57 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats agree.

36 percent say the U.S, economic system is generally fair to most Americans; 53 percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A Pew Research Center/USA Today poll of 1,504 U.S. adults conducted Jan. 15-19

Hubbub and hoity-toity commentary to jharper@washingtontimes.com

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