“I want to make this clear to the Fox News table: That was a joke,” said the tuxedo-clad president from a rostrum at a head table adorned with tulips and hydrangeas. “That was not my real birth video. That was a children’s cartoon. Call Disney if you don’t believe me. They have the original long-form version.”
The president, ever inscrutable, is officially in reelection mode, having spent the past week on matters serious (touring the tornado-ravaged South) and silly (asserting his place of birth). The question, politically, was what version of himself would Obama choose to display at this weird, sensitive time at this weird, ritzy event? Savvy campaigner, ponderous professor, cutting jokester, arrogant taskmaster?
All of the above. He self-deprecated, referencing his flagging poll numbers and running a medley clip of his own speech flubs, and dinged a host of GOP stalwarts — joking that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was born in Canada (“Yes, Michele, this is how it starts”), that former governor Tim Pawlenty’s middle name is “Hosni,” and that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) couldn’t be there because “his budget has no room for laughter.”
Personalities in attendance ranged widely: Cyclist Lance Armstrong was seated next to White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) chatted up Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” (who played Brown on “Saturday Night Live”). Congressional leadership schmoozed with TV anchors such as Bill O’Reilly and David Gregory. Joan Rivers was several gowns away from Paula Abdul. “Saturday Night Live” head writer Seth Meyers gave the traditional celebrity keynote address.
But the star of the show was off the dais, at Table 98. Business tycoon, potential presidential candidate and birther proponent Donald Trump, invited by this very newspaper, basked in the attention of the leader of the free world and the people who write about him. Trump elicited boos from gawkers and protesters while entering the Washington Hilton, but once inside it was all flashbulbs and glad-handing and laughs.
Obama praised Trump’s executive experience in a backhanded way, by referring to Trump’s TV show, “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
“You, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership,” Obama said. “And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil Jon or Meat Loaf. You fired Gary Busey. These are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir.”
The room erupted in cathartic cheers. Trump received the ribbing with a closed-mouth smirk.
Meyers followed the president’s speech, and left few media entities and politicians un-ridiculed.