Clapping Along With Bush at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

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On Saturday night, as I was sitting at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner–Washington’s official prom–I had a vision of the future.

This is what I saw: it’s decades from now, and historians and others are trying to understand what happened in the first years of the 21st century. That was when the United States government initiated a foolhardy war on the basis of fear and hyped-up threats. It was also a period when the people in charge did not take one of their last chances to deal with the real danger of global warming. And, of course, it was during those years that American leaders hocked the nation to China and the nation’s global financial standing diminished. And these historians are asking, “What the hell went on.”

Well, look at this old tape, one says, it just might explain. And they huddle over a holographic view-screen and watch as George W. Bush, the president during those years, is conducting the U.S. Marine Corps Band at the 2008 correspondents’ dinner. He’s mugging for the crowd, as he proceeds. The audience of journalists is laughing.

And when the song is over, Bush (and the band) receives rousing cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.

“Hmmmm,” says one of the historians, “very interesting.” “How many dead American soldiers and dead Iraqis were there by this point?” asks another. “We can Noodle it,” answers a third historian. “Why were they clapping with him?” asks one. “Maybe they all were just having a little fun during a hard time,” suggests a fifth, adding, “And imagine how frustrating it must have been for media reporters–remember media reporters?–back then.” Well,” says the first historian, “Nero fiddled, and this one conducted.”

Yeah, its good that official Washington (all 3000 members of it) can come together (in formal wear) for a few laughs and a good hotel meal. I did have fun at the dinner, hobnobbing with rapper, Amber Lee Ettinger (better known as Obama Girl), B.J. Novak (of The Office), Ben Affleck, Morgan Fairchild, and CNN’s Bill Schneider. It was entertaining to watch James Connaughton, the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and C. Boyden Gray, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union (and a crusader for deregulation), try to pitch a reporter the story that the Bush administration really has succeeded with its global warming policies. It’s a story with a “twist,” they said. Rick Davis, John McCain’s campaign manager, told me and others he didn’t care which Democrat wins his or her party’s nomination. (Really?) At one point I bumped into Angela Bassett–literally. And I thought late-night host Craig Ferguson, the comedy provider of the night (in addition to the president), acquitted himself well, gently zinging Bush, Dick Cheney, and the media in a hard-to-please room.

But clapping along with Bush? While everyone around me enjoyed the bit, I poked at the raspberries atop the slice of cheese cake before me. It would be far too easy to turn the moment into a metaphor. And I’ve already railed against such Bush-media comic camaraderie. So I’ll leave it to those future historians to render the verdict. As the band played on, I kept my thoughts to myself. (I’m always a polite guest.) And I wondered if I’d be able to spot Pamela Anderson at one of the after-parties.


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