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11.26.08

Five Ways Obama Has Already Changed Washington

In a few short weeks, he has ended the score settling tradition, eased Congress' inferiority complex—and made Stephen Colbert welcome again.

President-elect Barack Obama doesn’t take office until January 20, 2009, but his win has already affected the nation’s capital. Here are five indications that Obama has already changed the company town.

1. Competence over competition.

The Bush administration made enemies quickly and made them for life: Dick Cheney wasn't above personally quashing the careers of those who had wronged him. From sitting down with John McCain to appointing a roster of Clinton cohorts to administration positions, Obama has signaled to his colleagues that he is not interested in settling scores or drawing out rivalries that flourished just weeks ago. While his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, has reputation for fierce loyalty, one should not confuse that with blind adherence to a party line; he met last week with both conferences in Congress and impressed both sides with his willingness to listen and eagerness to work together. "He and Obama want to do big things," said one Republican attendee who is optimistic about finding ways to work with the administration. "They are not interested in small ball."

2. MoCs are BMoC (Members of Congress are Big Men on Campus).

Relations between the Bush White House and Congress were notoriously frosty—even before Democrats retook it in 2006. With Karl Rove running things, the legislative branch was seen as a hindrance not as an equal branch of government (of which there were actually four by their count, remember?). Now, the White House is stocked with legislators, from the president on down, and they'll be working closely to make the most of their majorities in both houses. This means that congressmen might actually be as important as they think they are. One way to tell: All the attention that's been given to Obama's appointments comes in part from the delicious anticipation MoCs feel for the upcoming confirmation hearings—none of which will be quite the same without Joe Biden, but they probably won't take as long.

3. The press corps has a new dean.

David Broder is, of course, Dean Emerita, but the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet will probably be taking over the daily duties. What do those entail? The unofficial position is part institutional memory, part guardian of journalistic purity: the walking, talking conscience of the press corps, there to remind them that he's just a president. Sweet, already a well-regarded reporter and infamous for her acerbic personality, has been covering Obama for years and never really swooned for him as so many of her colleagues did.

4. The celebrities are coming! The celebrities are coming!

The last eight years have seen only the dimmest stars at Washington events, a phenomenon particularly noticeable the annual White House Correspondents' Association gala, where D.C. journalists often settled for the thrill of seeing an American Idol cast off or a random Republican country star. This year, publicists have already begun making inquiries on behalf of their clients and the event's organizers are prepared for an avalanche of requests when tables go on sale. Will Oprah liven up C-SPAN's usually drab red-carpet pre-show? Will Washington's least fashionable finally have a reason to upgrade from Ann Taylor? At the very least, maybe Colbert will come back.

5. Working in government is cool.

Not "cool again," because for many of the 300,000 or so people who have applied for a job in the Obama administration (there are about 8,000 openings), government has never been cool. Bill Clinton was personally cool, perhaps, but as president he was like the high school prom king who deigned to visit Model United Nations. Obama promises a government identified with the digital age, not red tape.

Wonkette emerita, political junkie, self-hating journalist, and author of Dog Days. She has worked for Time, Mother Jones, Suck, and most recently, Radar. Follow her on Twitter.