Way back when Barack Obama was just a regular rock star, only filling high school gymnasiums instead of NFL stadiums, my daughter got to cuddle with him twice.
Nothing scandalous, mind you, Dahlia was a five-month-old baby at the time. But her combined 90 seconds with the future president made her a New York Daily News covergirl, inspired a bit in Jay Leno’s monologue and briefly inflated her importance to the same level as Angelina Jolie’s pregnancy.
In the ultimate baby scrapbook exercise, I chased down nearly every major presidential candidate for saliva-free photo ops during the New Hampshire Primary. Only Obama broke the no-kissing rule and the press photographers went nuts. The resulting photo essay, “The Baby Primary,” inspired worldwide speculation about the candidates’ body language.
Exactly a year after the media madness, I’m frequently asked two questions:
1. Did Dahlia ever get to snuggle up to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin or Vice President Joe Biden?
2. Will Dahlia be attending the Inauguration?
Caribou Barbie only came to NH once and I regrettably could not leave work that day. It would have been hilarious to introduce my baby as Tigger or Trigger or Tugg or Tagg (oops, that’s the name of Mitt Romney’s kid). I did try to meet Biden at a local community college, but his blathering oratory put my girl into an irreversibly cranky mood.
As for the shocked friends and relatives who cannot believe that Dahlia was not invited to Tuesday’s star-studded love-in, here’s a reality check: Barack Obama kisses babies in every city and town in America.
Do they even sell formal gowns at the Baby GAP?
Even though the Obamas’ so-called “Youth Ball” is for 18-year-olds, not 18-month-olds, I do have a lingering feeling that my daughter has been stood up at the prom. Seeking solidarity, I managed to track down political photo-op guru Andy Green, a junior history major at the University of Northern Iowa.
Green pulled off a major coup before the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, posing his Mr. Potato Head toy with Obama, McCain and the rest of the pack. The stoic Biden was the only luminary who refused the honor, explaining that he does “not take pictures with funny hats or funny toys.” But his wife, Jill, happily obliged.
It turns out that Green and his plastic spud, which once had its butt panel removed to satisfy Hillary Clinton’s Secret Service agents, were not invited to Washington either.
Green and I aren’t alone, of course. Scalped tickets to the Inauguration, which were originally distributed free through Congressional Districts, are fetching $500 on Craigslist.
Refusing to shell out that kind of moolah, I figured I had nothing to lose by pretending to play the DC Who-You-Know powergame. I contacted a close friend, who is the son-in-law of Someone Very Important, with hopes of scoring some “extra” tickets. He laughed at me, poking fun at his own lack of clout. Amazingly, his mother-in-law, a.k.a. the influential wife of Someone Very Important, has been turning away her own close friends. (As an aside, he noted that unclaimed 2004 Bush Inauguration tix were as plentiful as Skee-Ball prize tickets).
I now regret trying to play my weak Who-You-Know card. The magic of the New Hampshire Primary was that I had no special connections enabling us to mingle with the next President and the next Secretary of State. It was bad karma to try to force it.
However, I am convinced that Dahlia influenced at least a few votes for Obama during the earliest primaries, when he most desperately needed them. The blogosphere was buzzing with women cooing over his natural baby-handling skills, which are impossible to fake. My own wife, Stacy, fell into this camp. She told CNN that Barack won her vote just by “the way he’s looking at her so lovingly and so warmly.” (To be fair, Stacy also factors the economy, foreign policy and social values into the equation).
But Obama obviously owes my family nothing — except for stuff like defending the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
And the truth is that Dahlia will probably be much happier staying home on Inauguration Day. She has yet to ask for one of those designer Inaugural handbags or t-shirts by Diane Von Furstenberg or Donna Karan. She’s still far more impressed by Fisher Price.