'Healthy' relations on display at White House Correspondents' Association Dinner

Hollywood turns out for the 2010 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Below, a front-row seat for the red carpet arrivals...
By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 2, 2010

They are going to hate themselves in the morning.

President Obama and senior administration officials spent the star-crossed evening of the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner making up with Republicans who have denied a year of Democratic propositions and a jilted press corps that is sore over Obama's cold shoulder. The evening, with all its pre-parties and after-parties, recalled the promise that Obama's inauguration held for more tender bipartisan relations. Now, after a year of political breakups and unrequited media love, the boozy and sweaty Saturday night provided a shudder of "should we really be doing this" intimacy.

"A one-night stand?" said David Axelrod, the president's senior adviser, at a garden brunch before the dinner. "You know, the truth is that there is such a hard edge, there is such a coarseness to our politics now, and so a night of fun together is good."

As Axelrod spoke on Saturday afternoon, Obama was similarly bemoaning, in a commencement address at the University of Michigan, the "poisonous political climate" of Washington and the irresponsibility of the media hyping "sexy" stories.

Once the dinner bell rang a few hours later, Obama was suited up at the ballroom dais with that very political-media complex. At the Hilton Washington, 3,000 dinner guests cavorted in tuxedos and ball gowns and rasied glasses to the president's good health. Obama then took the microphone. He joked at the expense of the birther movement, poked fun at Fox, MSNBC and CNN, and refreshed some old material about Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele. This year, he dubbed Steele "Notorious G.O.P." and said he had a problem with "taxation without representin'." He ventured again into the taboo topic of House Minority Leader John A. Boehner's deep tan.

The media also came in for some teasing that was both cutting and heart-quickening for its target audience. Referring to his poll numbers, Obama said, "I may not have the star power I once had, but in my defense, neither do all of you." He added that while he had done much to rescue many industries from economic peril, there was nothing he could to for the media. "I'm not a miracle worker."

Jay Leno followed with a routine that flattened the evening's fizz, saying the dinner was "as close to a White House press conference" the reporters had had in some time. "Enjoy it," he said. The "Tonight Show" host also ribbed Republicans, some of whom he said couldn't make it because it was "dollar drink night at the bondage club."

Before Obama arrived, VIPs descended on escalators into windowless clusters of cocktail parties, a schmooze gantlet for elected officials and reporters and film stars. "I represent Hollywood," said Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who welcomed guests at the Newsweek party. "Adrian Grenier just asked me if we could do some legislation on paparazzi."

Axelrod arrived shortly afterward and communed with Dreier and Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser during President George H.W. Bush's term -- smiling, laughing, arm-squeezing.

So, did they feel like they were doing something sordid?

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius assured that it was all perfectly "healthy."

"All of legislation is about relationships," she said as she squeezed past Dreier and receiving-line gawkers (Incoming: Gayle King! Bradley Cooper! Colin Powell!). "And the more there is an opportunity outside of some philosophical debate to actually get to know somebody, know about their kids, know where they are from, know their interests, that will be helpful the next time around."

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