Do you think it is a sign of the times, or a sign of the administration, that Oprah hosted the White House Christmas television special this year? It is enough to make you long for the good ole days when Jackie Kennedy gave the American people a tour of the White House in black and white on CBS with Chris Collingwood. That was 1961, pre-social networking, pre-we have to know everything about everyone's life. Jackie's idea of the "people's house" was to preserve its history by acquiring objects and works that were historically significant funded by private donations at the direction of a Fine Arts Committee. She did a lovely voice over in the program using archival photographs and wonderful stories of the evolution of the White House before she appeared to speak about her restoration efforts and the magnificence of the building she and her family temporarily called home for such a brief time.
Fast forward to 2009 and you have Oprah hanging out with her pals chatting them up about whether they can really believe they get to live there. Greeting the first couple with a kiss and a hug, the three of them seemed almost giddy. Bo made an appearance that made us regular dog owners green with envy. Perfectly groomed, shiny coat, with holiday bells on, and oh so well trained. He gave two high fives to the First Lady and then Oprah wanted one for herself. As the owner of an 8 month old puppy, let's just say I couldn't relate.
There were a few segments about certain rooms and why they were decorated as they were. And we got a quick peek at how the huge gingerbread house was made and a very quick look at the older couple who provided the national tree. How interesting it would have been to find out how they felt about being selected for that honor. I actually thought the show was going to be about the White House and its Christmas traditions. But that took a back seat to the personal angle, Oprah's trademark.
I know they have made a decision not to parade the kids around on camera after they made that mistake once during the campaign. But I, for one, am tired of hearing about how smart and beautiful and healthy and happy they are. I'm sure they are all those things but I don't want to know about their sleepovers with Secret Service close by and I sure didn't want to know what I recently read about Sasha flying friends in to visit since the family doesn't get back to Chicago all that often. It just makes me think about all the children in this country who are poor and hungry, who are abused and neglected, and whose parents are out of work.
And we could have done without the gift giving chat where the President claimed to give better gifts than he receives. The First Lady objected but then had to admit that the spectacular pearl necklace she was wearing with the diamond clasp, an anniversary gift from her husband, wasn't bad at all, urging him to keep up the good work. And as to the Christmas season in the White House, the First Lady said there were a lot of parties.
A more formal look at the White House itself, its Christmas traditions and its breathtaking history would have been more appropriate at this time, more patriotic. And a little journalistic decorum never hurt anyone. But to throw a limited amount of serious political talk, almost token talk, into such a personal format felt off. A little touch of war, a little touch of peace prize, and a little grading of his own performance so far was just too lightweight, considering our current national circumstance.
President Obama is in danger of being overexposed on television and it would do him good to remember what we used to love about him during the campaign. His sweeping rhetoric, the way he could make us believe in things that have always seemed just out of reach, the way he gave us hope in the midst of our collective despair. Frankly, I don't want to know what it is like for him to live in the White House and look out his window at the girls' swing set from the Oval Office or that his wife occasionally looks at him sitting behind the presidential desk and wonders what he's doing there. I would rather imagine what all that is like for him. What we need from him is seriousness, earnest contemplation, and reassurance that everything is going to be ok.
A little less "Baby It's Cold Outside" and a little more "O Christmas Tree". Maybe next year ABC could get Arianna.