Why are Herman Cain, Occupy movement rebutting State of the Union?

Rebuttal of President Obama's State of the Union address isn't a job just for Republicans anymore, apparently. Herman Cain will speak for Tea Party Express. 'People's mike' will speak for the Occupy movement.

By , Staff writer

In case the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address doesn’t satisfy your political appetite, there will be two – count ‘em, two – additional followups on Tuesday night: one from the tea party and another from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

First, over at the National Press Club in the heart of Washington, Republican ex-candidate Herman Cain will speak on behalf of the Tea Party Express, one of several national tea party groups.

“Our voices are not being represented by either the Republicans or Democrats,” says spokesman Shawn Callahan. "Last year, [US Rep.] Michele Bachmann did a good job for us, so this year we decided that Herman Cain would be a good fit.” 

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The pizza magnate, who coined the term "9-9-9" to market his tax reform policy, will listen to the president’s speech, then pen his own remarks, says Mr. Callahan. But “we do expect him to speak to the fiscal issues that the Tea Party Express stands for,” he adds.

Last year, C-SPAN covered the tea party event live. Fox News did cut-aways between Congresswoman Bachnmann's remarks and its "The Sean Hannity Show." “You never know for sure who will show up to cover your event,” he says, “but NBC has said it will send a camera over, and some radio stations have said they will send people over.”

Mr. Cain's rebuttal will stream live on the group’s website, teapartyexpress.org.

After that, folks from the weather-hardy Occupy Wall Street movement will assemble in a well-lit spot in Washington’s McPherson Square to deliver comments on the “state of the 99 percent.” Their delivery will be via “people’s mikes,” with one group reading a statement that is then repeated and amplified by the next group. This action will cycle throughout the entire crowd until the statement is complete.

By then, it may well be the hour for late-night television, says presidential scholar Charles Dunn, author of “The Seven Laws of Presidential Leadership,” who wonders who will actually be listening. “I follow these speeches, and I can’t imagine that I will stay with it through four separate speeches,” he says with a laugh.

Republican strategist David Johnson, who worked on Sen. Robert Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign, says this proliferation of public responses to the president’s annual speech spotlights the splintering of America's body politic.

“The two major parties used to be able to contain all these alternative voices within themselves,” he says. “That is no longer the case,  and we are seeing more and more people who feel the need to make their own statement.” Beyond that, he says, this also underlines the role of social media in empowering disparate points of view.

“Before the era of Facebook and Twitter, you wouldn’t have seen such organized responses,” he says.

But history shows that even when groups begin to polarize, the main political parties have been able to absorb their disparate points of view, says Mr. Dunn. He points to 1968, when George Wallace made a third-party presidential run, but Republican candidate Richard Nixon was able to pick up on the grievances that Wallace represented and fold them into the larger Republican platform, resoundingly crushing Wallace's third-party bid.

“This kind of political splintering runs in cycles in our history,” he says. The disaffected groups usually find ways to rejoin the larger umbrella of the two-party system, he says.

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