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Will We See Another Camelot?
It was a mere fleeting image amid all the others that were beamed into our living rooms on that momentous election night: 7-year-old Sasha Obama in her black party dress, bounding gleefully up into her father's arms, each in turn planting a happy kiss on the other's cheek.
But the heart-tugging moment was as poignant a reminder as any that a vigorous, appealing young family is entering the White House — one that will bring a dramatically different energy and style to the presidency.
And on that night, it wasn't hard to see why some have been tempted to make the comparison with another highly telegenic first family who fascinated and inspired the country nearly a half-century ago: the Kennedys.
Youth, style, optimism — all those hallmarks of Obama's ascension to power remind Ted Sorensen, the speechwriter and adviser to John F. Kennedy, of his former boss. And, he says, an infectious sense of confidence. That's something few of us who watched Obama on that balmy Chicago night could have missed: the sense of calm and assuredness, though not cockiness, that he projected as he accepted the mantle of the most powerful job in the world.
"Kennedy had that confidence, too," says Sorensen. "And it carries over. Just as Kennedy's election restored confidence to a nation, Obama's will have the same results — confidence of Americans in our leadership, of consumers in our economy, of other countries in America."
What will mark the style of an early Obama White House?
Friends of the new first couple say the mansion will be infused with the spirit of Sasha and her 10-year-old sister, Malia, just as the Kennedy White House is often remembered as a playground for Caroline with her pony, Macaroni, or John Jr., who liked to use the Oval Office desk to hide.
"He may be the president-elect, but those two young daughters will still be a major focus of his life, and a major part of the White House," says Kirk Dillard, a Republican state senator from Illinois and a friend of Obama's. "Barack is a pretty hip and engaged father, and those girls have him wrapped around their little fingers." Dillard expects dance recitals and soccer games to fill the family's spare time.
The White House staff will be grateful for their presence, says Betty Monkman, a former chief White House curator who worked there for 30 years.
"Any house is so much more alive with children, and it's the same with the White House," says Monkman. "The kids come in, they bring their friends. It makes it a home." Monkman recalls pumpkin-carving parties with Amy Carter, a scavenger hunt for Chelsea Clinton.
What kind of first lady will Michelle Obama be? On the trail, we saw this striking 44-year-old woman become an increasingly effective advocate for her husband, drawing big crowds at her own events, and all the while drawing praise for her sense of style.
Sandy Matthews, a close friend from Chicago, says the first priority of the pal she calls "Mich" (pronounced "Meesh") will be getting her girls settled. After that, she expects her to focus on issues she embraced on the campaign trail — the challenges facing working women and military families, for example.
Will she and her husband be enthusiastic White House hosts, holding grand dinners a la Jackie Kennedy? Friends aren't sure. "They're pretty relaxed and casual types," says Matthews.
And Dillard recalls a friend with simple tastes, whom he ran into "getting ice cream at a Dairy Queen or buying junk food at a gas station."
There's one area where many are hoping for the immediate influence of Michelle Obama: the often maligned world of Washington fashion, where Jackie Kennedy's famous sense of style has never been replicated.
"Undoubtedly, fashion will change," says Rochelle Behrens, a designer and also a former intern in the Bush White House.
"Michelle Obama has an easy, unfussy, simple style of dress that harks back to the Camelot days of Jackie Kennedy." Behrens said. "I think we'll see people latch onto her style."