There was a ghostly presence at the White House this weekend, but no one mentioned it — not even Barbra Streisand, who tends to pop off about things like this.
Streisand, Morgan Freeman, Roger Daltrey and other celebs were gathered here for the annual Kennedy Center Honors, and President George Bush and wife Laura were hosting the White House part of the presentation.
Even the fervently liberal Babs performed the obligatory presidential handshake and photo op, and she did not tell him to buy a DVD of “W.,” nor did she break into a chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
But she, like other guests, seemed expectant that Barack Obama would peer out of a side corridor or would otherwise manifest his presence. The Bush Epoch, after all, was now an anachronism. The president had always seemed vaguely uncomfortable at this and other cultural events. Obama, Michelle and their circle would surely “get” this scene.
The president-elect seemed to affirm this theory on “Meet the Press” Sunday when he promised to invite artists, musicians and poets to the White House to inspire young people and create greater respect for the “national tapestry.”
This year’s honorees also included Twyla Tharp, Pete Townshend of the Who and country singer George Jones, whose work was immortalized at a vibrant show produced by George Stevens Jr.
According to tradition (the event dates back to 1978), the secretary of state hosts a dinner at the State Dept. (Condoleezza Rice has even played the piano in years past) while the president hosts his event the next evening.
The guests, an eclectic mix of showbiz and Washington celebs, were acutely conscious that the mood was quickly changing in this intensely political town. “This feels like the final days of Saigon, and the choppers are about to take the regime away,” observed one esteemed visitor.
George Bush can see the stage for the inauguration ceremony being built outside his front door. Tickets are being traded with the same fervor that once characterized the stock market.
But the president is not ready to surrender centerstage. Politicos at the Kennedy Center joked that Bush is single-handedly trying to solve the unemployment crisis — at least among Republicans — by making a flurry of last-minute political appointments, some 30 in the last couple of weeks alone.
It’s the Obama appointments that have made the headlines, of course. A rumor here is that Obama has quietly set up an advisory board to study policy on the arts and culture and that Michelle Obama is playing an active role. Culture has not been an area of interest for the outgoing president.
Indeed, there’s speculation here whether Bush, given his new leisure time, may decide to visit Broadway to see Will Ferrell in his new one-man show. It’s title: “You’re Welcome, America. A Final Night With George W. Bush.” It opens for an eight-week run Dec. 20.