Ever since the news broke that, much to the consternation of Team Hillary, some of Hollywood's major players -- including David Geffen, Jeffery Katzenberg, and Ari Emanuel -- were throwing their support behind Barack Obama, I've been asked the same question again and again: Why?
It's not "Why?" as in, "Why in the world would they want to do that?" Obama's appeal is too obvious for that. The question is more an attempt to understand the intensity of Hollywood's embrace of his candidacy, despite many long and pre-existing loyalties to other candidates. It's been like striking a match in a room filled with gas; the political equivalent of the recent fire in Malibu that started at 5:00 pm and by 5:30 had burned a row of houses, including Suzanne Somers', to the ground. This time, it may be Hillary's that gets torched.
Sure, Obama is young, brilliant, handsome, charismatic ... and, yes, Sen. Biden, "clean as a whistle." But the reason why Hollywood has gone ga-ga for Obama can be summed up in one word: "Casting."
In Hollywood, it's the key to greenlighting a movie; it can make or break one (if you don't believe me, put someone other than Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness and see if it makes over $150 million domestic).
As much as we may not want to admit it -- as much as we may wish that politics was about policies and the perfect health care plan -- the truth is unavoidable: casting matters. It matters very much.
And it's not just a question of finding someone with "star quality," a young, handsome leading man to head your ticket (if that were the case, Brad Pitt would be president -- and our first lady a lot more interesting). It's about blending the right candidate with the right role at the right time for our country.
For a long time now, America has been besotted with the idea of President as Macho Cowboy. Think John Wayne. Or Ronald Reagan epitomizing the John Wayne archetype. The tough-talking, straight-shooting, no-crap-taking role model has captured the public's fancy -- especially in a post-9/11 world.
It's one of the reasons Bush was able to win reelection despite all the massive failures of his first term. He was seen as a brush-clearing, pick-up-driving, big-belt-buckle-wearing, terrorist-ass-kicking kind of guy. The sort of fellow you could have a beer with, as opposed to John Kerry's equivocating, wind-surfing, Chardonnay-drinking persona.
But after 6 years of Bush's all-hat-no-cattle leadership, the American public seems ready to abandon the John Wayne fantasy. The question is: to be replaced by what?
A Jimmy Stewart-style Everyman? An honest-as-the-day-is-long Gary Cooper type? A Gregory Peck-does-Atticus Finch moralist?
With his moral sense of social responsibility and his "audacity of hope" optimism, Obama may help the country leave behind John Wayne and embrace Atticus Finch. The man and moment may be made for each other.
For now at least, Hollywood has decided that Obama for President is a case of perfect casting.
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