Added On: Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama Wins -Expect some changes at the White House



Used to Early Nights, Washington Is Ready to Stay Up Late

By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON — Bill Clinton brought jazz, Rhodes scholars, a slice of Arkansas and all-night pizza policy sessions. When George W. Bush arrived, Texans took over the town. Blue jeans were out; coats and ties and cowboy boots were in.

Now comes Barack Obama: young, hip and multicultural, with a Harvard law degree, a writer’s sensibility and a smooth left-handed jump shot — not to mention two little girls who, America learned Tuesday night, will soon get a new puppy. His historic election brings political and generational change to the nation, but it also brings something else: cultural change in Washington, and a sense that the city’s social fabric is about to be ripped up and restitched.

At weekend soccer games, parents wonder aloud which of the city’s exclusive private schools might win the presidential sweepstakes by enrolling Malia and Sasha. (The Obamas could, of course, go the Jimmy Carter route and enroll their daughters in public school; Michelle Obama has said privately that she did not intend to make a decision about school until after the election.)

At the Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ, the Rev. Robert Maddox Jr., a onetime Carter adviser, has already sent a letter inviting the Obamas to join. “We’ve gotten word from the grapevine that they will not decide where they go to church until they get in and settled a bit,” he said. “But they will obviously be looking for a place where their girls can be involved.”

This city has had eight years of a president who goes to bed at 9 p.m.; Laura Bush, the first lady, once said that she and Mr. Bush did not come to Washington to make new friends. A big night out on the town for the Bushes is dinner at Karl Rove’s house. With the Obamas, the capital’s hostesses are hoping to get back into high gear.

Yet the Democratic establishment here is still oriented around former President Bill Clinton and his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Just four years ago, Mr. Obama was a state senator from Illinois. After nearly two years on the campaign trail, he remains, here in Washington, an outsider, a virtual unknown.

“Is there anybody in Washington that really knows them? No, which is a very interesting thing,’ Esther Coopersmith, who has raised millions for the Clintons and other Democrats, including Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the vice president-elect, said of the Obamas.

“He went home every weekend, or he went campaigning and was never here, and she lived in Chicago,” she said.

So Washington is left to imagine what cultural tone the Obamas will set. Will Bruce Springsteen perform at the inaugural — or maybe Yo-Yo Ma? Will Mr. Obama make frequent use of the presidential box at the Kennedy Center? (Laura Bush often went, accompanied by friends, while her husband stayed home.) Or will the Obamas, whose idea of fun is playing board games with their daughters, be the type to stay in at night, helping the kids with their homework? Will Hollywood stars take up residence in the Lincoln Bedroom, the way they did during the Clinton years?

“He’s a cool cat,” said Christopher Buckley, the political humorist, “and I think he’s going to bring cool catness back, if it ever existed at the White House.”

Cool, maybe, but not too cool; during the course of his long campaign, Mr. Obama, wary of seeming too glamorous, took pains to make himself almost boring, a hint that his presidency may hew more closely to social convention than many people think. “They won’t want to shock the nation,” predicted Letitia Baldrige, who was White House social secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy. “They’ll want to be just quiet and dignified and conservative.”

As for sports, the big question is whether the new president will install a basketball court at the White House. President Bush had T-ball games; will Mr. Obama bring B-ball to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? There are still 75 days to go until Inauguration Day, but members of the Washington Wizards, the city’s N.B.A. team, are already dreaming.

“I want to play Obama one-on-one,” Andray Blatche, the Wizards’ 6’11” forward, declared after practice the other day. His teammate Caron Butler jumped in: “It’d be nice to go out there, shoot around with him, tour the White House.”

When America elects a president, the country votes and moves on. When Washington gets a new president, the shift can be tectonic, changing ordinary lives in ways both profound and mundane.

Jobs change. The food changes. (Mr. Obama likes health food, although the O’Chili Bama Burrito has been selling briskly at California Tortilla, a Tex-Mex restaurant in town.) The real estate market goes boom — all those new Cabinet secretaries and White House staffers have to live somewhere, don’t they? — even if the rest of the nation is in a bust.

At Politics and Prose, an independent bookstore with a progressive flair, Barbara Meade, a co-owner, said Mr. Obama was good for morale but bad for business. For one thing, the Bush administration as a subject made for lively book sales (Bob Woodward practically made a one-man industry of it). For another, Ms. Meade says, she expects some of her best customers to land jobs in an Obama White House.

“They won’t have the time to read that they have now when they’re on the outside,” she said. “For us, we no longer feel like we’re out in left field. We feel that we’re in center field, that our culture will become the dominant culture of Washington.”

On K Street, the city’s lobbying corridor, Juleanna Glover, a Republican strategist and hostess to the city’s younger set, is busy updating her Rolodex; how can you have a Washington party when hundreds of White House e-mail addresses are about to be defunct?

“I e-mailed a 3,000-person list; I probably got 800 bounce-backs, I probably got another 400 or 500 auto-replies — ‘I’m out of the office until Nov. 5,’ ” Ms. Glover said. “I’m making the assumption that at least a third of those are Democrats, and most of those are going to be changing jobs, too.”

Mr. Obama is no stranger to Washington society; when he arrived in January 2005 as the city’s newest Democratic celebrity senator, he was quickly invited to white-tie events, at first attending only reluctantly. He has twice appeared at the Gridiron Club dinner, the annual affair that features journalists spoofing the people they cover. Still, some longtime denizens of Washington envision him abandoning some of the capital’s stuffy old conventions.

“There’s an older generation here that clings to, you know, the Gridiron Club and the White House Correspondents’ dinner, and certain institutions,” said Frank Mankiewicz, a longtime Democratic operative and former press secretary to Robert F. Kennedy. “We go to the Corcoran, the Smithsonian, the I. M. Pei Wing of the National Gallery. I have a feeling those things will diminish in importance, and other institutions will take their place.”

Just what other institutions, Mr. Mankiewicz could not say. Like much of the rest of the city that is about to become the Obamas’ new home, he will have to wait until Jan. 20 to find out.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous movie fan said...

I heard recently that, despite all the perks that come with living in the white house, the first family still has to pay for any food that their private guests consume

11:34 AM  

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