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How beautiful, how spacious? Obama, Al Green, Newt Gingrich, and ‘The Help’

Checking in with Obama, Gingrich, and ‘The Help’

It’s only January. But the 2012 presidential campaign may have already had its most enchanting moment - and surely its hippest. President Obama sang a snatch of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together’’ at a fund-raiser at Harlem’s Apollo Theater 10 days ago. He crooned in a near-falsetto that very creditably approximated the most wondrous ’70s voice on vinyl. Just the first line. That was it. But that was more than enough. It was cool and it was funny. The singing was extremely good, too. The audience went wild.

It was one of those little media moments in which popular culture and politics embrace. You know the drill: Flashbulbs erupt. YouTube postings blossom. The monologues of talk-show hosts practically write themselves for a night or two. Then that’s that. Remember Ronald Reagan meeting a begloved and epaulette-wearing Michael Jackson at the White House, or George H.W. Bush listening with approval to Dana Carvey explaining how he imitated the president by combining the voices of Mr. Rogers and John Wayne, or Bill Clinton watching “Air Force One’’ not once but twice, or George W. Bush revealing he had “My Sharona’’ on his iPod? Probably not, since other than for connoisseurs of incongruity, such moments have the half-life of mayflies. Obama imitating Al Green feels a little different, though. It’s weighty as well as weightless.

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