All Kidding Aside

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, May 1, 2006; 2:21 PM

President Bush on Saturday night had the audience at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in stitches. With doppelganger comedian Steve Bridges alongside -- playing his inner self -- Bush poked gentle fun of his own mangling of the English language, his belligerence and his feelings about the media.

Then Comedy Central satirist Stephen Colbert ripped those stitches out.

Colbert was merciless, reserving his most potent zingers for the people in spitting distance: The president who took the nation to war on false pretenses and the press corps that let him do it.

The boozy bonhomie of the annual event is intended to serve as a balm for the often tense relationship between the White House and the reporters who cover it.

Bush largely delivered on his side of the bargain. Colbert delivered something else entirely.

From the Bush part of the evening, Bridges (as Bush): "Here I am at another one of these dang press dinners. Could be home asleep, little Barney curled up at my feet. But noooo, I gotta pretend I like being here. The media really ticks me off, the way they try to embarrass me by not editing what I say. . . . "

Bush: "I am absolutely delighted to be here, as is Laura."

Bridges: "She's hot. Muy caliente ."

Bridges on diplomacy: "Some of my critics in the international community call me arrogant. I will not even honor them with a response. Screw 'em."

I haven't been able to find a complete transcript of the Bush/Bridges talk. ABC News has some excerpts; here's more from the Newsbusters blog. Here's the complete video from ABC news. The Bush duo was rip-roaringly funny -- until the end of the performance, when the real president added a brief postscript.

"As most of my predecessors have known, it's really important to be able to laugh in this job and I thank you for giving us the chance to laugh tonight. I got one more thing I want to share with you that's on my mind, something that's never far from my mind: God bless our troops, God bless the cause of freedom and God bless America. Thank you."

It was a sudden, bracing reminder that the nation is at war. And, as it turned out, it was a fitting segue way into Colbert's performance.

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