At the Gridiron, Pols and Press Share A Little Sizzle and a Lot of Cheese

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 9, 2008

The annual Gridiron Club dinner, that white-tie relic of old Washington, has come and gone again. It ended with the first and last performance of President Bush and the Busharoos. But more on that later.

Last night, Washington's journalistic and political elite -- about 600 total -- gathered at the downtown Renaissance Hotel for an evening of satirical song and dance. The scribes wrote the skits; the pols took the potshots.

There was Condoleezza Rice in brown, pausing in the hotel lobby to congratulate a bride-to-be staying in the hotel for her bachelorette party. So nice, the bridesmaids reported.

There was perpetual attendee and documentary filmmaker Ken Burns comparing this dinner to those of years past: "The Clinton ones used to go on and on. Now there's a little more achtung to it."

There was Mayor Adrian Fenty, scurrying in at the last minute to meet his date, Tim Russert.

Bush was there, ready to be the butt of jokes for his last Gridiron as president, and 13 of his Cabinet members were present, too.

Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama sent emissaries in their stead, though the trio's presidential campaigns provided lots of fodder for the show.

Some of the coverage in past years implied that we're all supposed to haaate the Gridiron. Haaate its exclusivity (just 65 active members), haaate the elbow-rubbing (the New York Times boycotted the event this year for that reason), haaate its fusty resistance to change (the 123-year-old club didn't admit women until the 1970s; television and radio correspondents weren't allowed until 2005).

And yet the whole show was vintage charming.

Maybe it was seeing White House correspondent Helen Thomas dressed up as a 19th-century schoolmarm, pretending to be Rice teaching democracy to foreign heads of state.

Or the meta experience of watching a quintet of old white guys -- including Bob Novak, Al Hunt -- pretend to be old white guys -- Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani -- and sing the "old white guy" blues (Al Hunt can totally pull off a gown, by the way; he was doing Giuliani in drag).

Maybe it was the way a chorus of veteran journalists wryly belted out a song about the good old days of their floundering industry: "We used to take our sources to the finest spots to dine. Now we go to Mickey D's, where the patrons stand in line. . . . Our budget's looking thinner, and my stock ain't worth a dime."

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