STATE OF THE TUBE

AS A TELEVISION EVENT, which is how it must be evaluated, President Reagan's State of the Union address didn't live up to all the advance hoopla. But then, neither did the Super Bowl. Like the Super Bowl, it was a more than adequate performance, but we might have preferred the movie on Channel 5.

The president, we were told by none other than Pat Buchanan, would be scrutinized as much for the way he looked as for what he said. On that score, he came off well. No one could believe that he had been in the hospital for major surgery three weeks before.As for his delivery, it was as flawless as ever. Once in a while, he seemed to have a problem with the teleprompter, but that was hardly noticeable and fully to be expected in a performance extending for 40 minutes or so.

In most other regards, it was vintage Reagan: harking back to Philadelphia and the Constitutional Convention of 1787; reaching out to the new speaker of the House, Rep. Jim Wright of Texas; invoking the names of Roosevelt, Truman and Kennedy in behalf of his policies in Central America; pulling out the emotional stops; even bringing Nellie Reagan, his mother, into the act.

If anything, that was the problem. Like Hill Street Blues, five years or more of the same show gets a bit predictable. It's too easy to tune out.

Others have made much of the fact that the president didn't give enough time or attention to Iran and the contras. What troubles us is that he didn't give very much time or attention to anything else. No mention of the trade deficit or the dollar. No acknowledgment that our biggest export - indeed possibly our only export - is U.S. industry. A stranger listening to the speech might well have come away thinking that the state of the union was wholly satisfactory, that all of its troubles were little ones.

By way of comparison, the television debut - he has been seen before but never as a star performer - of the House speaker, Mr. Wright, was rather impressive. Rocking back and forth as he might on the porch of a Texas ranch house, he came across as a country boy who had made it to the big time. Indeed, he said as much of himself and the Senate majority leader, Bob Byrd, with whom he shared the Democratic response to Mr. Reagan.

There were one or two flaws. Every once in a while he failed to restrain the grin his television coach undoubtedly told him to avoid. This made one wonder whether he was about to pull the bottle of snake oil out from under the table and go into his hard sell. On the whole, though, it was a good show - far better than that of his predecessor, Tip O'Neill, who gave the impression that the only word he knew was no.

As for substance, Speaker Wright made a telling point. The president had said that Americans must demand more of themselves and their children and raise literacy levels dramatically by insisting that children master the basic concepts of mathematics and science and by insisting that they not leave high school without studying and understanding "the basic documents of our national heritage." But, the speaker noted, the president's budget actually

cut the commitment to education by 28 percent.

Much the same thing, he said, was true about the president's war against drugs. There is, he said, a "gap between rhetoric and reality that we just can't tolerate and maintain the people's trust in government."

Soft-spoken but hard-hitting. Ready to cooperate with the administration. That's how the speaker came across. The approach seemed exactly right, for with the Democrats in control in the Senate as well as the House they must be seen as a positive force working to solve the nation's problems. Already, Mr. Wright noted, they have passed and sent to the president three bills - on clean water, highways and emergency help for the homeless.

With as savvy a spokesman as Mr. Wright, the Democrats seem to be offering new competition for TV super-salesman Reagan.

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