The "big event" in Washington D.C.—the White House Correspondent Association dinner May 1 has come and gone. Once again, I joined my colleagues in the White House Press Corps and our spouses, as well as other journalists, government officials and the "celebrities" from Hollywood and elsewhere, who now seem to be outnumbering the White House correspondents who organize the dinner.
This year, more than 3,000 of us packed the Washington Hilton Hotel ballroom for the highlights of the event: the President as comedian-in-chief and entertainment by a comedian Jay Leno.
In his maiden address to the correspondents last year, Barack Obama stole the show. He came up with some hilarious quips, ranging from a needling of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel observing Mother’s Day (Obama didn’t think Emmanuel could say "mother" as a lone word) to joshing First Lady Michele Obama’s fashion statement ("She has the right to bare arms").
In explaining how he meets with people who disagree with him, he showed a slide of him sitting in the office with a pirate who was the spitting image of Blackbeard (as most people think of the Somali pirates.) It brought down the house.
So how did Obama fare this year? I was not alone in the opinion that he was funnier last year.
He started off strong by explaining that Vice President Biden had convinced him to come to the event, and a loud "bleep" drowned out the adjective he said Biden had used in explaining to him how important the dinner is. He also got in some first-class needling at House GOP Leader John Boehner’s seemingly perpetual tan and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s nude pose in Cosmopolitan many years ago.
But, more often than not, the President fell short of his performance last year. His joke about someone not invited to a party "like Charlie Crist" (a reference to the Florida Republican running for the Senate as an independent) seemed contrived and was actually inaccurate. He quoted Republican National Chairman Michael Steele as saying "representin”—suggesting that the GOP leader drops his ‘g’s to sound like he’s from the ‘ hood. Perhaps on occasion, but as one who has interviewed Steele, I never noticed this flaw. Apparently, others at the dinner have not either, as the line drew diminished chuckles.
Other zingers the President dropped either fell flat or were very much insider stuff. For example, he remarked about an example of losing one’s memory on what was in a state health care bill and said "Right, Mitt." Many knew this was a reference to the White House’s claim that Mitt Romney signed a healthcare bill when he was governor of Massachusetts similar to that passed by Congress this year. Many others in the crowd did not. Remember, not everyone there is a White House correspondent or even a reporter.
Barack Obama might take a page from his predecessor. After a few years of solo standup performances at the correspondents’ dinner, George W. Bush had wife Laura step in and delivered a baffo performance, jabbing her husband, his parents, Vice President Dick Cheney, and styling herself "a desperate housewife."
At another dinner, a Bush lookalike joined the President at the podium. Bush delivered predictable remarks such as proclaiming his pride in addressing the correspondents and his "evil twin" said, "I wish I could have dinner with the 36% of the people who still like me." And in his final correspondents’ dinner appearance as President, Bush achieved his dream by conducting the orchestra.
For the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2011, Mr. President, a suggestion. Call President Bush for advice. And bring in some sidekicks!