- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2014

Let’s hope the nation witnesses talk of substance rather than skimpy political theater when President Obama steps before the nation for his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Yes, let’s hope so, considering that only about a fourth of Americans definitely plan to tune in, says at least one major poll.

“Why watch another rerun?” demands the Republican National Committee, convinced that the speech will be fraught with distractions, and the proverbial same old, same old.

Based on his track record, Mr. Obama will likely speak for just over an hour, though protocols, applause and social moments could draw his oration out to, oh, 90 minutes. For better or worse, this serious speech has been prepackaged by the White House as an entertainment event, complete with PR videos, promises of “exclusive content” and trite social media trimmings. Will such efforts attract a wider audience, or annoy and alienate an already worried American public? Only the overnight ratings will tell when they begin arriving on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, some in the audience will be listening a little closer than others.

“I’ll be watching to see how hard President Obama pushes for so-called ‘fast-track’ authority to negotiate new international trade agreements. Republicans support new trade treaties and are interested in working with him on them. But the president’s union supporters oppose them, arguing in part that they’ll contribute to income inequality — which the president says he wants to tackle as well,” Fox Business Network correspondent Peter Barnes tells Inside the Beltway.

“A strong endorsement of ‘fast track’ authority by the president could lead to a major bipartisan deal this year, perhaps the only one of 2014,” he adds.

“The president is likely to talk about ending wars and his signature deal with Iran in this year’s SOTU. But the reality is that the Iran deal is doing more to ensure Iran’s nuclear status than stop it,” says Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

“And far from ending, wars are continuing and beginning anew from Syria to Iraq to Afghanistan. Not to speak of the al Qaeda renaissance, China’s new bellicosity and Russia’s return to authoritarianism,” she adds.

ABOUT THOSE EXTRA GOP RESPONSES

Yes, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington offers the official GOP rebuttal to the aforementioned speech, to be broadcast on virtually every network. But what about Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican — who’s offering the tea party response? See what he has to say, live-streamed at 10 p.m. on Tuesday here: Teapartyexpress.org. Then there’s Sen. Rand Paul. The Kentucky Republican also will air a few thoughts, to be available on YouTube immediately following President Obama’s address.

SPEECH: THEY GOT IT COVERED

Presidential rites of passage like big speeches and inaugural fare are a joyous time for cable news networks — a lavish feast compared to the box lunch offered by broadcasters like ABC, NBC and CBS. While those networks must limit their coverage, lest they lose primetime advertising revenue, competitive cable news hums with purpose, high art, and much packaging.

When President Obama’s State of the Union address begins Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET, it will be proceeded by coverage that begins as early as 6 a.m., as is the case with CNN. Then comes the steady drumbeat up to the moment of truth, or untruth as the case may be. The big event is surrounded by pre- and post-speech shows, and bolstered with special analysis, local tie-ins, interactive gizmos, whirling graphics, social media, plus heavy radio and online coverage.

A very abbreviated roundup, then, from a few networks in question:

Along with anchors Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper and John King on the “magic wall,” CNN’s team includes former George W. Bush adviser Karen Hughes, Newt Gingrich, Obama biographer David Maraniss and former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. Jake Tapper will host “State of the Union: Postgame.” The network also offers reports from Des Moines, Iowa — and Tehran.

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