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President Obama trades friendly barbs at Gridiron Club dinner

President Obama teased members of the Gridiron Club at annual dinner.
President Obama teased members of the Gridiron Club at annual dinner. (Alex Wong)
Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger
Monday, March 14, 2011

It took three attempts, but the Gridiron Club - a hokey, hallowed vestige of swampland-era Washington - finally got President Obama to show up for its annual dinner Saturday night. And yet, what did the members get? No respect, we tell you - no respect!

The president told the 650 guests at the downtown Renaissance Hotel that they were meeting at a time when "a powerful spirit of change is tearing down old regimes, decaying institutions, remnants of the past."

Pause. "So, look out, Gridiron Club. . . . I mean, look at this get-up. Forget about winning the future. How about entering the present?"

By that point, though, Obama had already been serenaded by a gang of Gridiron members, impersonating the GOP House leadership while dressed as Hells Angels, about how they're "gonna block Barack around the clock," to the tune of the old Bill Haley song.

We're gonna move Obama to the right

We're gonna mock mock mock his election fight

We're gonna talk, gonna talk, and then we might indict!

Yes, America, it's one of those Washington dinners: where leading politicians and media elite dress up in their finest - white tie, in this case - to eat, drink and lob passive-aggressive jokes at one another, in a way that seems pointed and mean but only serves to feed the beyond-the-Beltway suspicion that They Are All in Bed Together.

Such as: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels joking that he got his duds from "the bearded guy at Men's Wearhouse. Anyone else notice, you never see him and Wolf Blitzer in the same place at the same time?" Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Mitt Romney: "We have more in common than our hairstyles; we both used to think health-care reform would advance our careers." Al Hunt of Bloomberg feigning surprise that the absent Sen. Chuck Schumer would miss a chance to schmooze reporters: "It's like Charlie Sheen missing a hookers' convention."

Only among friends, right? They kid because they love. Right?

In the D.C.-as-high-school metaphor, where the 3,000-person White House Correspondents' Association spring dinner is fondly known as "prom," Gridiron is something like the Student Council Follies. The 126-year-old group is a relatively exclusive cadre of the Washington press corps - limited to 65 active members, most of them well over age 50 - whose preferred method of entertainment in 2011 remains Broadway-style current-events song parodies.

But we confess: Some of it is kinda funny. Worthy of a 12:52 a.m. slot on "Saturday Night Live," even. In the Act 2 finale, "Karl Rove," dressed as a mad scientist, sang to the Johnny Cash tune "I've Been Everywhere": "I've seen every one, man . . ./They all wanna run, man/Egos by the ton, man . . ." (Rove was played by the Marine Band's Kevin Bennear - like many of Gridiron's best voices, not a full member but a ringer enlisted for the occasion.)

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