In his last few months as Commander-in-Chief and, more pertinently here, commander of the National Medal of Arts selecting committee, President Barack Obama has once again demonstrated discerning taste in awarding the annual honors for excellence in the American arts. With the inimitable (and once again Emmy-nominated) Audra McDonald leading the list, you won’t hear any veto threats coming from this side of the aisle. Comedy legend Mel Brooks, actor/voiceover artist Morgan Freeman, and brilliant composer Philip Glass make up the other predominant names from the world of film and television, but mentions for Motown founder Berry Gordon and The Laramie Project playwright Moises Kaufman deserve a tip of the hat in their own rights.
It’s always fun to parse the recipients of the National Medal of Arts against the sitting president that awarded them; you can drive yourself crazy wondering how the Academy votes but this decision ultimately belongs to a one-person committee and you know exactly how he feels publicly on a whole host of issues. And when it comes to doling out gold totems, President Obama knows when to give Ricki and the Flash co-star Meryl Streep another one. Conversely, does he regret slapping the necklace onto Clint Eastwood in his first year of office instead of waiting to hear the Hollywood legend's strongly held opinions on empty chairs? Other awardees under Obama’s watch include Elaine May, Tony Kushner, Albert Maysles, Sally Field, Rita Moreno, and John Williams. While I’d love to have seen Bill Clinton fete Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, nothing for me beats the image of Twyla Tharp getting the phone call that George W. Bush wanted to host her at the White House. Had he just seen Movin' Out?