By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
We are making history this week. It is a momentous event, something we will tell our children's children about.
Yes, it's true: Oprah is in Washington. What, you thought this was about the inauguration?
There's that, too, of course. Barack Obama becomes president today. But even if he achieves nothing over the next four years, he has already given this town something it prizes above most anything else: the affection of Hollywood.
Springsteen, Bono and Beyoncé performing at the Lincoln Memorial. Maureen Dowd's townhouse so jammed with stars -- Larry David, George Lucas, Ron Howard -- that even Tom Hanks and Ben Affleck have trouble getting in. Spike Lee and Susan Sarandon expected at the Creative Coalition Party, and a Huffington Post party anticipating Halle Berry, Leonardo DiCaprio, Steven Spielberg, Sharon Stone and Stevie Wonder.
And, towering over all of them, and all of us, there's Oprah: Sitting down to a private dinner with Obama and staff at Blair House. Partying at the Root Ball with the likes of Larry King. Moving her show to the Kennedy Center for a couple of days this week. "I can't think of any place I'd rather be in the world than right here, right now," Oprah told her audience yesterday, before a show with Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Faith Hill, Mary J. Blige, Will.I.Am and David Foster. Oh, and some guy named Joe Biden, with his wife, Jill.
The queen of daytime television managed to elicit a bit of news from the vice president-elect and his wife that had eluded the nation's political journalists. "Joe had a choice to be secretary of state or vice president," Jill confided.
"Shhh!" her husband interjected.
"No?" a worried Jill Biden asked her husband. "Well, okay, he didn't," she said, trying to recover.
Biden raised his eyebrows. Oprah's audience laughed. Jill Biden continued: "I said, Joe, if you're secretary of state, you'll be away. See you at a state dinner once in a while."
Uh-oh. So Hillary Clinton was Obama's second choice? The Obama transition rushed out a clarification: "To be clear, President-elect Obama offered Vice President-elect Biden one job only -- to be his running mate."
But political intrigue could wait for another day. It was time for Washington to bask in its return to popularity, courtesy of Obama, after eight years of estrangement from Hollywood.
"Don't we all feel like we are sort of vibrating?" Oprah asked her guests yesterday.
"It's buzzing," said Kutcher.
"I'm shaking," said Moore.
"To me this all means there is a different level of consciousness to our country," Oprah reported seconds later.
"I feel like I'm living a dream," said Moore. "I feel like I am -- I'm going to get emotional," she said, beginning to choke up.
Before going to break, Oprah played a videotaped testimonial from Justin Timberlake. "The day after the election I woke up with a little swagger in my step," he recounted. "We all of a sudden have swagger. America, we are cool now."
And since America is cool again, its capital is cool, too. Celebrities are coming to us, and not just the usual suspects, such as Judd Hirsch, who show up at the White House Correspondents Association dinner.
Tobey Maguire and Usher went to an event yesterday at Ballou High School. Spike Lee, Sean "Diddy" Combs and Queen Latifah were on the program at Howard University. Shakira was on the schedule at Oyster Bilingual School, Affleck at the Martin Luther King Library, Bill Russell and Alonzo Mourning at the Hay-Adams, and Muhammad Ali at the Marriott Wardman Park. Faith Hill was booked at the National Building Museum, Patti LaBelle at the Washington Hilton, Aretha Franklin at the Kennedy Center, Carole King at Union Station, the Beastie Boys and Sheryl Crow at the 9:30 Club, the Jonas Brothers at Verizon Center, L.L. Cool J at the Harman Center, and Jay-Z at the Warner Theater.
But the Kennedy Center's opera house had the biggest prize yesterday: Oprah's taping at 1 p.m., advertised as "the hottest ticket in Oprah Show history." In front of a classical backdrop with columns and an image of the Lincoln Memorial, Oprah and her guests spent their hour gushing over the change in regime.
"There is an energy that doesn't want to be let go," Moore reported to Oprah.
"First time you ever publicly supported a candidate?" Oprah asked Moore.
"It is," the actress answered.
"Mine, too," Oprah confessed, raising her hand.
Oprah played a video testimonial from Scarlett Johannson. "It's really given me faith in our democracy and the whole democratic process," the young actress said. "I never experienced anything like that. It was such an historic moment."
Next on the set, the vice president-elect, who seemed a bit star-struck himself, reporting that he had brought his 91-year-old mother to the taping. "Hey mommom! My mother's up in the presidential box up there," he said, pointing. Biden quickly joined the stars in the Obama adulation. "You know, we got this right, him on top and me second," Biden said. "I mean it."
"I believe you," Oprah replied.
"It is amazing how he has inspired the nation," Biden said. "Aren't you proud of our country?"
"We're so proud of our country," Oprah agreed. As evidence of this, she unveiled a song written for the occasion by David Foster and Will.I.Am: "From mountaintops we have dreamed from sea to shining sea and now here we are."
It was all a bit saccharine and over the top, perhaps -- but a small price to pay for the return of Hollywood's love.