Barack Obama “is young, brilliant, handsome, charismatic…and, yes, Senator Biden, ‘clean as a whistle,'” Arianna Huffington wrote yesterday. “But the reason why Hollywood has gone ga-ga for Obama can be summed up in one word: casting. In Hollywood, it’s the key to greenlighting a movie; it can make or break one (if you don’t believe me, put someone other than Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness and see if it makes over $150 million domestic).

“As much as we may not want to admit it — as much as we may wish that politics was about policies and the perfect health care plan — the truth is unavoidable: casting matters. It matters very much. And it’s not just a question of finding someone with ‘star quality,’ a young, handsome leading man to head your ticket (if that were the case, Brad Pitt would be president — and our first lady a lot more interesting). It’s about blending the right candidate with the right role at the right time for our country.

“For a long time now, America has been besotted with the idea of President as Macho Cowboy. Think John Wayne. Or Ronald Reagan epitomizing the John Wayne archetype. The tough-talking, straight-shooting, no-crap-taking role model has captured the public’s fancy — especially in a post-9/11 world.

“It’s one of the reasons Bush was able to win reelection despite all the massive failures of his first term. He was seen as a brush-clearing, pick-up-driving, big-belt-buckle-wearing, terrorist-ass-kicking kind of guy. The sort of fellow you could have a beer with, as opposed to John Kerry‘s equivocating, wind-surfing, Chardonnay-drinking persona.

“But after six years of Bush’s all-hat-no-cattle leadership, the American public seems ready to abandon the John Wayne fantasy. The question is: to be replaced by what? A Jimmy Stewart-style Everyman? An honest-as-the-day-is-long Gary Cooper type? A Gregory Peck-does-Atticus Finch moralist?

“With his moral sense of social responsibility and his ‘audacity of hope’ optimism, Obama may help the country leave behind John Wayne and embrace Atticus Finch. The man and moment may be made for each other.”