Obama to Change Washington Lifestyle!

Among the dumbest things I’ve read since Barack Obama  was elected is Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s “Used to Early Nights, Washington Is Ready to Stay Up Late.” (Thanks, memorandum.)

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.

No doubt, presidents have some influence in this town.  George W. Bush, for example, put blue ties in fashion and red out.   But, please.   I’ve hardly seen anyone in cowboy boots.   Blue jeans are ubiquitous. Coats and ties have always been in here and likely always will be.

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.

Uh, yeah.   Bill and Hillary Clinton were  from Arkansas; neither had any connections in DC when they moved in.  Bush’s daddy was president, of course, but it had been eight years in the past when Bush 43 rolled into town.

And, really, does anyone expect the Obamas to spend THAT much time out partying?  They’re young and hip by First Family standards, of course, but presidents tend to be rather busy.  And they do have two small girls to raise.

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.

I don’t live in DC, so I’m not incredibly attuned to the nightlife here.  My strong suspicion, however, is that the District’s residents aren’t going to radically change their dietary habits when he moves to the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Yes, a few thousand political appointee jobs will change hands, leading to a think tank and lobbying firm game of musical chairs.  That happens with every new administration.  Most people will continue living in their present houses, apartments, and condos, however, and just get off at a different Metro stop.

“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.”

I hereby predict that the Smithsonian, National Gallery, and Corcoran will still be standing when Obama leaves Washington.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Judging by what she’s been wearing in the pictures of her I’ve seen, Michelle Obama appears to be more fashion-conscious than any First Lady since Nancy Reagan. That’ll be interesting.

  2. Triumph says:

    Judging by what she’s been wearing in the pictures of her I’ve seen, Michelle Obama appears to be more fashion-conscious

    Interesting. I see you are an enthusiast of women’s fashion. Sorry about the outcome of Prop. 8.

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Dave, do you mean fashion conscious at the tax payer expense? Who is going to fork out the cash for her duds? The Obama’s did not go to school on their own buck. Why is it we will get to pay for what she easily could?

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    I have no idea. I presume the First Lady frequently has a clothing allowance and the Obamas are quite well-to-do from both of their earnings at this point.

    And as to being at least aware of ladies’ fashions, I have theater training, my mom’s family was a showbiz family, and over the years I’ve had several clients and acquaintances in the garment industry.

  5. Michael says:

    Michelle Obama appears to be more fashion-conscious than any First Lady since Nancy Reagan.

    All three of them?

  6. G.A.Phillips says:

    The great green/blue/donkeypoop hell with it, I say we all vote for Ron Paul next time and get it over with!!!!!!!!

  7. Bithead says:

    “There’s an older generation here that clings to, you know….

    God and Guns?

    I suspect we’re going to be seeing “There’s an older generation here that clings to…” (Fill in the blank with whatever they’re against) for a few years.