At Gridiron, Satire Has No Fury Like a Journo Scorned by Obama

By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 23, 2009

The media just wanted a good cuddle with their golden boy. At the annual Gridiron Club dinner in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Renaissance, the president was supposed to be at the head table, smiling and clapping as the club's journalists flounced around in costume, belting political parodies to the tunes of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gilbert and Sullivan.

The president, however, had planned to skip the affair to spend time with his family at Camp David. Typical. String 'em along, get elected, go back to the wife. The nerve.

Chins up, Gridiron Club! Your show -- a 124-year tradition of back-patting and ego-pricking accompanied by the U.S. Marine Band -- went on Saturday night without a hitch, save for running nearly an hour behind schedule and earning mixed reviews. People are so hard to please these days.

Let's rewind to just before 7 p.m. Saturday. The night's VIPs arrive on a scab-colored welcome mat that functions as a red carpet: mayors, governors, Cabinet members, TV personalities and plenty of people that kinda-sorta look familiar. Without Obama, the highest wattage belongs to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, sweeping in with wife Maria Shriver, who's seemingly shrink-wrapped in a tight shoulder-baring violet gown.

The Governator is here to deliver his party's "response" to the Gridiron's skits. Down they go on two flights of escalators to the grand ballroom. Six hundred people are squeezed into 18 long tables, sandwiched between the stage and the head table, where Schwarzenegger sits between Chief Justice John Roberts and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, with Vice President Biden in Obama's place.

Then, in dire need of some liquored-up levity, the capital's journalists (laid off, bought out) and politicians (raged at, bailout-weary) sing and eat and drink and doze off and applaud and cringe, making light of their problems.

Here's NBC's Andrea Mitchell in a bear costume introducing a number that lampoons her husband, former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, to the tune of "What I Did for Love" from "A Chorus Line."

Kiss the Dow goodbye . . .

And let the markets tumble.

Ho ho, ha ha! Garçon, more champagne! Then the evening's most applauded number, with a Dick Cheney impersonator (in wheelchair and fishing gear) channeling Sinatra and referencing George W. Bush: "He did it myyy wayyy."

Now, a quick peek backstage, where the Gridiron Club's members are donning costumes, downing drinks and simmering over the president's absence. They're "very upset" and "dissed." Not since Grover Cleveland has a president skipped the dinner in his first year in office. Obama cited family commitments, but it's entirely probable that he didn't want to be seen in white tie and tails at a $300-a-plate dinner of lobster panna cotta, yukking it up with Beltway insiders, while the economy bottoms out.

If it's continuity you're looking for, there's the doyenne of Washington media, Helen Thomas, sitting by herself in her orthopedic shoes. She has only a cameo this year. Her cue is in three hours, but she's ready anyway, sitting, smiling, happy to be here. Everyone could learn a lesson from Thomas.

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