White House Correspondents Dinner: Obama Can Also Be His Own Comedian


obama whca dinner.jpg
It really is true. Barack Obama can staff himself better on nearly all fronts than those who staff him — even comedians.
Barack Obama so outdid Jay Leno, more by accident than by design (I think), at the White House Correspondents Dinner that next year the WHCA should just let Obama do the President’s remarks and the follow-up humor. And yes, I know Leno was not “staffing” Obama, but still. . .
Morgan Freeman, one of the few actors at the White House Correspondents Dinner who expressed interest in political blogs and think tanks, told me that he thought that it was a mistake for Jay Leno to follow President Obama.
Leno just didn’t hit his groove during his routine — but President Obama said preemptively that night that everyone knew what happened to those who followed Leno’s time slot — and well, he wasn’t gonna take any chances.
Obama, whose material was put together by Jon Favreau, Ben Rhodes and Jon Lovett, was hilarious. As I watched him perform, I remembered the self-conflident line on Obama that Ryan Lizza captured in a piece when the President remarked that he could do better than any of the people working for him in their jobs. As captured by Lizza, Obama said:

I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.

It’s totally clear now that President Obama can and should be his own White House Correspondents Dinner comedian.
The President joked about his missing birth certificate, lampooned Politico (whose co-founder John Harris said the “skinned knees were worth it”), called out to the Jonas Brothers with a polite warning that should they get any ideas about Sasha and Malia, he had just two words for them: “predator drones.” He noted that his favorability ratings had fallen — but that Hillary Clinton consoled him, saying “you’re likable enough.”
And back on his missing birth certificate, Obama said that he knew his popularity was still sky high “in the country of his birth.”
People were gasping and laughing pretty hysterically at the edginess of Obama’s remarks. Leno just couldn’t beat him.
I saw Larry King with the collar of his jacket up — looking nervous and a bit uptight. He told me he was freezing and wanted to find “who was in charge” to get the heat turned on — but I think it was nervousness that the President might be offered Larry’s slot on CNN.
This annual glitz fest is not as vapid and silly as folks might think. There are “thinkers” at all of the parties, policy wonks, real journalists who do solid work, even academics — in addition to the Hollywood types who come into town.
Joshua Micah Marshall, publisher of Talking Points Memo and proprietor of TPM Media, invited me to join his table and team at the dinner — including David Kurtz, Managing Editor of TPM, TPM White House Correspondent Christina Bellantoni, and Millet Israeli who is TPM‘s General Counsel. But the other guests Josh Marshall invited were stellar including my old friend Darren Star, creator of Sex in the City, Beverly Hills 90210, and Melrose Place; former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, and current National Security Council Chief of Staff and his wife Denis & Kari McDonough.
I can’t go into detail about discussions at our table — but it can be said that the glitz and fanfare of the dinner didn’t come near to squelching an extraordinary exchange between Brzezinski, Scowcroft and McDonough built on an impressive combination of intellectual firepower and aggregated front line White House national security experience.
People seemed to get how “cool” Josh Marshall’s table was — situated in the far outer ring of the giant ballroom. His was a “new media” table with two of the most important thinkers and doers in national security in the modern era sitting with one of the most powerful national security practitioners in the incumbent White House. Brzezinski and Scowcroft are serious players — but they are also a lot like the Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon of foreign policy. Darren Star who has helped shape cultural influences not only in the United States but globally was sitting with Josh Marshall — who has been one of the primary agitants challenging status quo political journalism.
Denis McDonough’s affability, intellect, and just overall “presence” were magnetic. It was fun to see Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough bring over many from their table which was down in the prime time center of the room to the outer ring spot we were at. Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski brought former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and actor Bradley Cooper — one of the other unusually politically interested Hollywood stars — over to hang out with us at table 214.
Josh Marshall, who is usually pretty circumspect about everything insiderish DC, basically saw much of the room begin to look over his way to see why the crowd began hovering over a table about as far away from the President as Pluto in the solar system. And about Kari McDonough, all I can do is gush — seriously. She is such a non-DC type who can nonetheless handle all of the DC operators. I was pretty blown away by her, unexpectedly.
Just for the record, I need to report that Zbigniew Brzezinski turned Josh Marshall and me down for the dinner twice. On my third attempt when I reported that the table was becoming more and more interesting, he accepted and wrote:

Steve — Re May 1st
persistence is a winning virtue, even if the win is not virtuous !
But when is the actual sitdown, so I don’t have to participate in the endless milling around and mutual sniffing?
many thanks – zbig

That is pure Zbig. He hates the “mutual sniffing” but have to admit I do sort of enjoy it.
Before the dinner, I went to the Atlantic Monthly/National Journal reception and hung out with Senator Jay Rockefeller and his wife, Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson, a fascinating guy who is now with Hewlett Packard but was head of feature film marketing for Disney for more than a decade (really interesting chap whose name I will put here if he sends me a note), and the Atlantic Media Group’s Elizabeth Keffer, James Bennet, John Fox Sullivan and Justin Smith. General Scowcroft also spent a lot of time at the reception chatting with Darren Star and the uber-political district wired Charlie Cook and his wife.
And then I made my way down to the Newsweek Reception where Lally Weymouth was at the door meeting and greeting every single person who walked in, along with Newsweek‘s John Meacham. Lally pulled me in and just introduced me to five other great people in a few minutes — really impressive.
At Newsweek, Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was enjoying chatting with folks. Bradley Cooper and Darren Star checked in with each other. Interestingly, Alex Gibney — Academy Award winning Director of Taxi to the Dark Side profiling institutionalized torture and abuse at the US-controlled Bagram Prison in Afghanistan — had his picture taken with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Gibney’s new film, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, that takes on politicos on both sides of the aisle for complicity in the Jack Abramoff scandal, hits theaters on May 7th. At Newsweek, I also had an always never long enough discussion with the very best economic columnist in the world, Martin Wolf, who was down from New York with his wife to “observe” at the Financial Times table with the new FT Managing Editor Gillian Tett and DC Bureau Chief Edward Luce.
Also at the big event, we checked in with Arianna Huffington who along with HuffPost political correspondent Sam Stein had Bill Maher, Scarlet Johansson, Alec Baldwin in various orbits.
Others I checked in with were Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and his wife, journalist and author Kati Marton; Congressman Adam Schiff, Senator Christoper Dodd, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Senator Maria Cantwell, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who left back for the city to deal with the Times Square car bomb incident shortly after we chatted); National Economic Advisor to the President Lawrence Summers; White House strategic adviser to the President David Axelrod; White House economic team members Michael Froman, Gene Sperling, Jason Fuhrman, and Austan Goolsbee; ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and NBC’s David Gregory, Yemen Ambassador to the US Abdulwahab Al-Hajjiri; UK Ambassador and Mrs. Nigel and Julia Sheinwald (who showed great stamina and were at every party I attended), producer Stephen Spielberg, NPR’s Robert Siegel and Ari Shapiro; Asst. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell; White House speechwriter Adam Frankel and communications deputy Bill Burton.
Susan Rice’s speechwriter Warren Bass was everywhere. I saw Rahm Emanuel on the main floor of the ballroom a few times — but he didn’t stop by Table 214. Valerie Jarrett was also in good form at the Vanity Fair gala at the home of French Ambassador Pierre Vimont. Some other pals included Newsweek‘s Michael Hirsh, the BBC’s Kim Ghattas, Peter David and Zanny Minton Beddoes both with The Economist, and the Wall Street Journal‘s Amy Schatz. I heard that US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was there but missed her. Neera Tanden, now of the Center for American Progress, and David Frum, now not with the American Enterprise Institute, were engaged with the scene. Ana Marie Cox — who is now political editor for GQ — was having a lot of fun, very festive, but lost her purse. It was a busy night. . .
Earlier in the day, I attended Tammy Haddad‘s enormous White House Correspondents Association pre-dinner garden party — and while many of the folks there were many of the same folks everywhere else during the weekend, I thought that she and Susan Axelrod did something very significant that deserves a real salute.
They took what could have been an otherwise merangue-ish event — ‘pretty’ but not a lot of substance — and made it really meaningful and paid tribute to CARE, focusing on maternal care issues, and Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy. Everyone received CARE post cards that they addressed to their mothers — expressing what that person’s mom had said to them that had been most important in their lives.
This may sound hokey — but it impressed me. Tammy Haddad is a powerhouse producer in Washington and knows everyone. She can meet and greet better than the best — but when she insisted that the enormous crowd “be quiet” and recruited some of us to be “shushers” quieting the din from people who wanted to ignore what was important and get back to who-knows-who stuff, Haddad got the place quiet and made the time and space for talking about serious health issues.
David Axelrod’s spouse, Susan Axelrod, partnered with Haddad and took her time to explain what this was all about and not to race past the issues about epileptic seizures and maternal health issues that they were trying to spotlight. I was really impressed because the pressure coming from the guests was to skip the serious and just get back to the frivolous. And Axelrod and Haddad pushed all that back hard.
I’m not sure anyone will actually write about this exchange between an unruly audience and the principled wife of Barack Obama’s strategic adviser as well as Haddad — but I want to make sure it is here because these large glitzy events where the politically powerful and major stars of Hollywood mix need to have moments where something real is discussed — and that happened at the Haddad Garden Party.
On the less serious side though, Haddad called up to the stage after Susan Axelrod three actors — only one of whom I knew because I have some real American pop culture deficits. The only one I recognized was Glee cast member, Matthew Morrison, who is a great guy — and who stayed out til at least 3:30 in the morning when I left him and others at the French Ambassador’s home where the Bloomberg/Vanity Fair party was trying to close down.
But when Haddad asked Matt Morrison what his mother had said to him when he was young that made a difference in his life, he said “she introduced me to Pez”. That’s right, the Pez candy (and dispensers!), which he said he is still pretty addicted to. The other guys said that their moms told them to “be what they wanted to be” or “be themselves” and all that kind of apple pie stuff. But I thought the Pez line was actually fun. And I watched Glee as part of my recovery strategy from the party today.
I have to admit that when I was trying to wait for Matthew Shephard’s parents in the media room of the Human Rights Campaign dinner where President Obama spoke, I met most of the Glee cast members and Lady Gaga — but I had never seen Glee and didn’t know that I had been hearing Lady Gaga all of the time but didn’t know she was the singer of those songs I heard everywhere. I’ve fixed this since.
MSNBC had a great party last night — but I didn’t go. For some reason, I wasn’t on the list for them — though I appear frequently on Countdown and the Rachel Maddow Show. But I heard it was excellent, and Rachel was guest bar-tending again. Zero hard feelings though.
Where I did go was the home of French Ambassador to the US Pierre Vimont who opened his amazing residence to Vanity Fair and Bloomberg. The lighting in the back garden was stunning — and there got a chance to check in with New America Foundation Chairman and Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy.
I wish Schmidt was Secretary of State or maybe something like Secretary of the next US-collaboratively sculpted global network. He’s such a 21st century Dean Acheson who simultaneously sees trends and knows what has to happen with national and international institutions. He’s kind of like Bill Clinton in the sense that his DNA will not allow him not to keep bubbling over with fascinating ideas on how the world is evolving and how these developments could be channeled.
I’m not saying this to be nice to Schmidt. In fact, it only hurts me when I am generous to him. He once said years ago when the New America Foundation was evolving from its earliest stages when my friend Ted Halstead had hatched us that if “Ted and Steve don’t piss me off every three months with the stuff they do, then we’ll have to fire them.” Anyone in the non-profit industry knows how valuable board members are who actually encourage constructive risk-taking rather than the incessant risk-aversion that characterizes many of these organizations.
I met Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon and had great chats — that I think were helped forward with Darren Star doing the intros. Andrew Shue was there as was his sister Elizabeth Shue who was approachable and really into policy issues with her talented husband, Davis Guggenheim, who produced and directed An Inconvenient Truth, who has what I hear from Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter is a documentary on education, Waiting for Superman, coming out in the fall that will really shake the foundations of America’s thinking about children and the opportunities we are and are not giving them in our anachronistic educational institutions.
Guggenheim got me pretty choked up when he told me about a couple of the vignettes of five students he follows as they work with their parents to make school choices – and when one young man and lots of other kids and their families are watching by lottery whether they are sent to a school where 98% of the graduates go to college vs. a school where nearly no one does — and where kids drop out, are killed, get into drugs, and the like.
This is the kind of night that I would have liked to stay at until the sun came up. I could listen to Jonathan Alter, Davis Guggenheim and Elizabeth Shue all night. Yes, there was glitz — but we were learning something about the educational mess this country still faces – and that made the connection between Hollywood and the political world here worth all of this.
Finally, or nearly finally, I decided that my favorite actor I met the entire night was Zach Galifianakis — who introduced a young cool guy to me as his husband, though he wasn’t. Galifianakis is just comfortable with himself and the guy is smart — sort of honestly blunt but inquisitive. He asked me a lot about the meltdown of the Republican Party and why Republicans seemed to be making suicidal choices rather than picking “George Will-types” to save the party.
Galifianakis, the hilarious fourth in the half billion dollar earning film, The Hangover, really likes George Will (who I often do as well) — but engaged some of us in a chat about politics, political personalities, and why trends were moving as they were. I have a lot of time for him — and learned that the sequel to Hangover will start filming in the fall.
Galifianakis also told me that it’s tough to urinate near a tiger that is just a few inches a way on a dinky leash — and that the shot with Mike Tyson throwing a massive fist blow at his face took 45 takes.
There’s more that I could add — but what I wanted to convey beyond all of the indulgence of VIP lists, select tables, black tie and gown, meet and greet stuff at this gathering is that there were real moments of serious policy and political discussion that were not trivial.
I discussed Middle East policy, US-Cuba travel, China issues, the international economy, the choices David Petraeus faces in the future, President Obama’s performance and his team, Russia, arms control, education policy, Af/Pak stuff — lots of Af/Pak stuff, Iran, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and gay marriage, Brazil and a global governance I participated in there with Senators, Congressmen, senior White House officials, Ambassadors, and Hollywood directors and stars.
When Jay Leno had finally given up trying to get laughs (this is payback for his once including me in a top ten list of people with the “worst hair” on C-Span), Darren Star and I walked through trying to find his friend Dana Delany (who I need to thank again for the ride to the Vanity Fair party), I introduced Darren to Wolf Blitzer — who turns out has known Darren and his parents forever. Blitzer looked at Darren and then me. And then he pointed out waving his finger across the audience and said, “Darren Star — from when he was a little kid — Brilliant, just brlliant. . .ten times more brilliant than any of the folks in this room.”
Blitzer is probably right — though adding Josh Marshal, McDonough, Brzezinski, and Scowcroft to the table with Darren probably made it one of the higher octane collectives in the house.
Thanks to Josh Marshall and Talking Points Memo, the Atlantic Monthly team, Newsweek and Lally Weymouth, the New Yorker and David Remnick (who hosted one of the best parties I’ve been to the night before at the W Hotel), CNN/Time (who had another great reception) Vanity Fair and Bloomberg, Tamara Haddad and her husband Ted Greenberg — and MSNBC (indirectly) as well as many great friends interspersed through all of this for an incredible weekend.
— Steve Clemons


29 comments on “White House Correspondents Dinner: Obama Can Also Be His Own Comedian

  1. Mr.Murder says:

    BTW, GaGa bans commentary on her site. Had a grl come over and try to put stuff on there and we got spam rated by her.
    She is frighteningly closed minded.


  2. David says:

    ” You do us all a service for recording all of this.” Could not agree more, DCPundit.


  3. Mr.Murder says:

    Quite an evening, comments put it into clear perspective. So funny I forgot to not laugh.


  4. DCPundit says:

    Thanks for posting this super synopsis of the WHCA weekend. Even the former “Bachelor” star Andy Baldwin, now a doctor in the US Navy, tweeted how great your take on all this was. I saw you that night and heard Lally Weymouth yell out to everyone that you were a genius. Your buddy Darren Star had the biggest grin going when he heard that.
    People want to be around you and it’s clear that you are the magnet in any room you walk into. You do us all a service for recording all of this.
    I don’t know how you do all you do. It’s so intimidating, but thanks from one of your fans and occasional pals.


  5. David says:

    Unlikely any problems would have been solved on the spot, so maybe we could just eschew chance informal encounters. Makes sense to me…
    And god knows the likes of the folk you mentioned have not meaningful influence on anything worthwhile, rather like Angelina Jolie, Barbra Streisand, James Cameron, et.al.
    We’d better start looking anywhere and everywhere we can for any possibilities for solving any of the now catastrophic problems confronting us. Steve does this, and he does it very well. He reads situations and people rather astutely, and he does it honestly. Frankly, I am glad he went to this event and reported on it.
    And it ain’t because I don’t get it. Like some of the other posters, I’ve been following politics for half a century, and I have no qualms about where I will look to try to ferret out anything resembling a legitimate insight.
    I understand and appreciate substantive criticism of Obama. Naomi Klein offered some of the most useful commentary last night on an NPR show. Her point, with which I agree, is that Obama is a centrist. This he had to be to get elected, but it is also a hindrance when it comes to some of the things he needs to do. I hope his comment regarding Goldman-Sachs in his routine represented his own current mindset. I also hope Ken Salazar’s position regarding BP and the catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf is unwavering.
    Actually, I think reality is in the process of dope-slapping the living shit out of us, something which is tragically long overdue.


  6. Martha Nakajima says:

    David–gosh, if I had been invited and had a chance, non-scripted encounter with Donatella Versace, Jason Wu and Tory Burch, we probably could have fixed the oil spill and resolved all kinds of high policy issues right there in no time at all.


  7. livefromAfghanistan says:

    Predator drones are always funny until they blow up the wrong wedding party.
    Then they’re just hilarious.


  8. Taylor says:

    I had no idea that Jay Rockefeller was married to Walter Isaacson.
    Most insightful comment:
    The President … called out to the Jonas Brothers with a polite warning that should they get any ideas about Sasha and Malia, he had just two words for them: ‘predator drones.'”
    During the build-up to the escalation in Afghanistan, Obama made a big deal about agonizing over the decision, including an unattended visit to a soldier’s grave in Arlington (luckily a journalist was nearby to see it).
    With this single comment, he reveals that the whole thing was total fucking kabuki.
    I sometimes consider myself a cynic, but life invariably outpaces me.


  9. Franklin says:

    Sounds like a fun time! Thanks for giving a first-hand account too — it gave a good flavor for what the event must have been like.
    Agreed that Obama did good. His delivery was great and his writers provided him with solid material. Granted the president has the benefit of working with a friendly audience that’s inclined to laugh at his jokes. The audience of politicos will never let the president feel like he’s bombed.
    The visiting comedian task is a much greater challenge (e.g. the comedian is usually an outsider who lacks the intricate understanding of DC’s unique brand of “inside baseball”; the demands of a semi-formal event too require an incredibly tough balancing act). Leno didn’t seem to know the audience well enough to tailor his material to the occasion. The daily pre-occupations of LA too are not the same as the daily pre-occupations of DC.
    Even though the WHCA probably lacks the audaciousness to try him out again, I would love to see Stephen Colbert get another shot at the event. We’ve seen his persona dealing with W.; it would be great to see how his persona meshed with a very different presidential “roastee”.
    Colbert understanding of some of the palace intrigue combined with his knowledge of the audience could make it a great fit. Colbert has also had an additional four years to cultivate relationships with members of the audience — in 2006 he was still a relative newcomer. At this stage he’s likely to have better first-hand knowledge of the audience than almost any other nationally recognized comedian (the only possible exception being someone like Jon Stewart — Stewart’s form of comedy would be a less edgy choice for that kind of venue. He’s likely to pull his punches, because he’s not hiding behind a Colbertesque idiot persona). Hopefully the WHCA runs some risks again next year and goes with a real wild-card (and hopefully Colbert agrees if invited).


  10. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “As for “insensitivity”, can you just IMAGINE what the press would have said if Bush had gone to the WHCD 10 days after Katrina and yukked it up?”
    So Nadine thinks we have simply forgotten the war criminal asshole Bush joking about “well, the WMDS gotta be here somewhere” while our kids were dying in Iraq in a war based on BALD FACED LIES.


  11. nadine says:

    btw, I don’t mean to imply that events like the WHCD are useless. I am aware a lot of business gets done at them. People used to read court circulars for more than the fashions too.


  12. nadine says:

    “Let’s recall that the Katrina problem was that Bush and his administration combined personal cluelessness and insensitivity with gross *governmental* incompetence. The latter was by far the more important problem, and so far, we have no reason to think the Obama administration has that problem.” (Dan Kervick)
    Actually, we do. I am hearing more and more people in the oil business who say that the established method to deal with an oil slick out to sea is to burn it off, which they haven’t even tried, except for one small test area.
    In Katrina’s case, the first and second levels of gross governmental incompetence were at the city and state level, before FEMA even had a chance to mess up, all of which Bush got blamed for by Democratic incumbents; all magnified by a hysterical liberal press. We may see some of that in reverse this time, but Obama may have lucked out inasmuch as Bobby Jindal is an extremely competent executive and not in the habit of passing blame.
    As for “insensitivity”, can you just IMAGINE what the press would have said if Bush had gone to the WHCD 10 days after Katrina and yukked it up? “Funnier than Leno” would NOT have been on the list. You gotta admit the double standard.


  13. Dan Kervick says:

    Let’s recall that the Katrina problem was that Bush and his administration combined personal cluelessness and insensitivity with gross *governmental* incompetence. The latter was by far the more important problem, and so far, we have no reason to think the Obama administration has that problem.
    I don’t believe that events such as the correspondents’ dinner are useless at all. I can appreciate the importance for Washington business of the networking that goes on. I just don’t think it is a good idea for the President of the United States to be engaging in “edgy” humor about grave matters like predator drone attacks, or to be seen as yucking it up lightheartedly during a depressingly horrible environmental catastrophe.
    Yes, we all need to laugh to keep our sanity – and just to keep from the alternative of crying all the time. But a President needs to project a certain consistent level of gravity and decorum. For better or worse, the president is our head of state, not just the head of our government, and the symbolic representative of the dignity of our government. Obama can engage in profane and irreverent jokes behind the scenes with his staff when he needs to blow off steam to deal with the pressure of his job. But engaging in show biz-level comedy routines with the loathed press corp in public isn’t the best way of communicating to the country and the world that grave affairs are being dealt with in a serious and professional way. And the sophomoric hijinks undermine the messages the administration was otherwise doing a good job in sending.
    This isn’t about one President. It’s just a bad tradition that has evolved. The White House correspondents have now come to expect this stuff, and no doubt administrations are afraid to piss them off by failing to deliver. But once the crisis intervened, Obama should have decided to put the edgy stuff in his pocket, and just made a few light and pleasant remarks.


  14. nadine says:

    “The parallels between Bush overflying New Orleans after Katrina and Obama yukking it up in DC while millions of gallons of toxic crude oil gushes uncontrollably from the floor of the Gulf is just reminiscently insensitive and spiteful to the residents of the Gulf region.”
    Don’t worry, Pessimist. The same press who ripped Bush to shreds over Katrina (where he had to push aside the deer-in-the-headlights Mayor Nagin and Governor Blanco before the Feds could even act) will laugh heartily at Obama’s great comedy routine, and minimize criticism of the slow and unprepared Federal response to the gusher in the Gulf (which was a Federal responsibility from Day One).
    BTW, thanks for the court circular, Steve.


  15. The Pessimist says:

    It just seems fundamentally inappropriate for the president and his staff to actively participate in, let alone attend, such a publically useless function as is The Correspondents Dinner, or whatever its official tile is.
    The parallels between Bush overflying New Orleans after Katrina and Obama yukking it up in DC while millions of gallons of toxic crude oil gushes uncontrollably from the floor of the Gulf is just reminiscently insensitive and spiteful to the residents of the Gulf region. Obama should have declined the invitation as a matter of presidential priorities and principals. I consider his participation at this pointless event to be an enormous political miscalculation if it was avoidable, and a glaring example of impudent insincerity to the residents of the region if intentional.
    The total disconnect between the needs of the tax payers and the interests of the tax collectors is just infuriating.
    The total cost in American tax dollars spent protecting Obama and his staff at this exclusive soir


  16. DonS says:

    Dan, you are absolutely right about Obama missing it in the ‘human’ department.
    Time was when the environment was number one winner politically, coincident with the interest of the public in protecting the environment. We got NEPA, the Clean Air Act, etc. Now most politicians seem interested in restricting those acts, and finding ways around them. What we get after a disaster is lip service. We know it’s lip service because if it was sincere there would have been prior action to alter the trajectory to disaster that all sentient beings know is inevitable. But the ‘system’ does not seem able to envision a way to transition from rogue capitalism to socially responsible economics. Could it be the system doesn’t really care because, you know, in the long run we’ll be dead.
    Bobby Jindal laments the threat to a ‘way of life’. Where was his sorry ass before when he encouraged the drilling ‘way of life’. Just one of many hypocrites.
    Even Brit Hume says the environmentalists who warned of disaster were right; but that doesn’t change his view on drilling. And Mr. Obama; Mr. Big Shot politician. Can we have a ‘view’ that is not steeped in the hypocrisy of political posturing please? I doubt it.
    I agree with those who find great sadness, for lack of a better word, that the Washington partiers can find it appropriate to yuck it up in such times. We outlanders are told, implicitly or explicitly, that we are unrealistic, idealistic, too heavy, even irrelevant. Must be in their job descriptions to be the arbiters of relevance. The system defines the paramenters.
    So I’m hanging out here in Nova Scotia, on the water (clean), watching the lobster boats come in and out the harbor. Not pristine, but close enough, like New Hampshire, that it’s not that hard to become outraged when I envision the harbor covered in crude.
    Steve does us all a service by elaborately rounding out just how vibrantly this huge contingent of insiders percolates, jokes, gads about. How else would we know? Oh to be connected to the ‘system’. Could there be anyuthing more heady? Or pathetic?


  17. Dan Kervick says:

    “You would have been most welcome at our table, and sometime I’ll visit yours up in Boston.”
    Home base is New Hampshire, Steve. My son and I were just in Boston for the day. If you are ever in New Hampshire, bring Annie, Oakley and Buddy, so they can engage in some mutual sniffing with my dog Rico.
    Our state is still pretty nice. You should visit it before the BPs of the world destroy its forests, lakes, mountains and rivers forever.
    I know it has become traditional for the President to do comedy routines at the Correspondents Dinner. But I wish they would knock it off. These routines are consistently inappropriate and appalling.
    Maybe the Vatican should have a Correspondents Dinner. The pope could tell sniggering jokes about the Inquisition, flayed and burned heretics, and buggered altar boys.
    Obama doesn’t really seem get it on the oil disaster. He’s pushing all the right buttons as a bureaucrat, but is falling down in the human being department.
    It’s not all about who is going to pay the damn cleanup bill. It’s not all about whose administration is better at emergency response. This filth in the Gulf is an ecological 9/11. It is global capitalism’s “Piss Christ” – a final straw of environmental desecration that should fry the last patient nerve of everyone who cares about the natural world. I’ve so had it with the systematic, nihilistic commercialization and destruction of everything that is sublime, sacred and natural, and that transcends the clumsy, filthy hands and ugly avaricious minds of human beings. We’re watching our living world die before our eyes, and all Washington pols and big city media can think about is who should pay for the damn funeral.
    But go ahead Mr. Prez. Do more sucking up to the the dead-minded Big Fucking Joke media and show biz crowd who run our depraved world and manufacture its empty messages and artificial reality.


  18. DonS says:

    ” . . . its only a matter of time before BP and Halliburton start pointing fingers. (poa)
    They already have, and Halliburton also pointing at the valve manufacturer, although considering the massive deals Halliburton has on these installations I would be highly surprised if any court would exempt Halliburton’s deep pockets from liability . . . some 15 or 20 years from now when the legal wrangling winds up, the lawyers ride off rich, and both BP an Halliburton have paid off enough politicians to gain tax relief from whatever monetary damages they are held responsible for.
    Interesting, here’s a link to a website, requiring membership to access, call Oil and Gas International. A 4/11/10 link says that Halliburton is acquiring Boots & Coots. I remember them from being hired to put out the oil well fires after the US invasion (or was it the first Gulf war?) Anyway, so a Halliburton subsidiary will now likely profit from some aspect of dealing with the Gulf disaster.
    Also interesting that this industry website, which says it has all the industry information, has precious few links related to the disaster in the Gulf. Just the cost of doing business I guess.


  19. David says:

    You missed Steve’s central point. This wasn’t just fiddling. I have a much better understanding of the dynamics of this event and the existence of chance, non-scripted meetings involving people who shape American policies and perspectives. This is far more important than I realized, even if on the surface it is not intended to be in any way substantive.
    Have you never had a chance, unofficial conversation with someone that produced more thinking and understanding than a called meeting would have?
    And where was Obama the next day (and he had to cancel an event in New Jersey where the economy was the focus in order to go to the Gulf Coast)?
    And this was one more chance to see the candid Barack Obama at work. We need that to help us know who he really is, just as Bush showed us who he really was with his “Can’t find any WMDs in the Oval Office” routine, and might I add that Steven Colbert’s sendup of Bush was one for the ages.


  20. PissedOffAmerican says:

    There is something tragically surreal about this empty suit yuk-yucking it up with the pathetic and derelict “Fourth Estate”, while what is potentially the biggest environment disaster in man’s history continues unabated.
    Are we really this fuckin apothetic and removed from reality? Wake up folks. What is touted as the largest petroleum field on the planet is spewing its contents into our ocean. This has the potential to have catacalysmic effect not just to our entire gulf coastline, but thje eastern seabopasrd as well, and moving outwards from there, with international implications. And this whiz kid wonder boy is on the comic circuit, and doing commencement ceremonies at colleges?
    Yesterday I heard a news commenator, pretending to be a member of the Fourth Estate, assert that “it is not known” if the four grey whales seen swimming in the oil would be “adversely affected”. Hello???
    And what of the toned down news reports of the gravity of this spill??? Wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that this piece of shit Obama SOLD OUT to the oil companies with his plan of EXPANDED offshore drilling, DESPITE the fact that blowouts are far from rare, and there have been literally scores of such “spills” in the past, albiet not as disastrous as this one. Did we REALLY elect this son of a bitch so he could hand the GOP and interglobal corporations their fondest wishes on a silver platter?
    And WTF is this “spill” terminology??? “Spill”, my ass. A “spill” is NOT what this is. This is a deluge, a gusher.
    And as it unfolds, we will see what refusing to exact accountability from federally contracted corporations has cost us. Halliburton cenmented this well just twenty hours before the blowout, and shoddy cementing has been the foremost cause of past blowouts. Aa we well know from Halliburton’s performance in Iraq, they will fuck us over in a minute if its profitable, if they can save a dime to make a dollar. CYA is in full effect right now, and its only a matter of time before BP and Halliburton start pointing fingers.
    And don’t for a moment think that BP can, or will, pay for this. This disaster may well unfold far past monetary ramifications. How do you reimburse the planet for the catacalysmic degradation of and possible inihilation of the ocean’s bounty?
    There is nothing funny here. This is an emergency of unprecedented scale. Obama needs to take his narcissistic self obsessed ass, plant it down at his desk 24/7, and tap EVERY domestic international resource possible to plug this gusher. Enough with the grandstanding and posturing, this isn’t a God damned campaign issue, or an opportunity to stick one on the GOP.
    Is he up to the task? I doubt it. If he was, he wouldn’t have been yucking it up with these subservient stare struck assholes that like to masquerade as journalists, instead, he woulda been in the White House doing his job.


  21. sanitychecker says:

    >> he had just two words for them: “predator drones.”
    A line cribbed from The West Wing.
    And how funny is that? I bet the relatives of the hundreds of innocent civilians killed by predators are laughing their heads off. What’s next? Angela Merkel and “only two words: gas chambers.” Or would that be over the top? Oh yes it would. But predator drones, that’s just amiable banter. Sickos.


  22. DonS says:

    Steve, you must have been running on adrenalin . . . or nice wine.
    “Interestingly, Alex Gibney — Academy Award winning Director of Taxi to the Dark Side profiling institutionalized torture and abuse at the US-controlled Bagram Prison in Afghanistan — had his picture taken with former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld”
    It’s these juxtapositions and accommodations that are difficult to stomach. Oh well, for Rummy, it was probably just a job; how to kill most efficiently, which he blew even that.
    “Af/Pak stuff — lots of Af/Pak stuff” Yup, and what about Is/Pal stuff? Probably too politically incorrect in that crowd.
    The Is/Pal stuff around here gets awfully intense and makes me think about checking out at times. I imagine others feel like that too.
    Thanks, again, Steve, for the color!


  23. WigWag says:

    Wow, sounds like a terrific party and it is great fun to hear about it. Thanks for the detailed rundown. It was also nice to hear that charity events like raising money for epilepsy are integrated into the festivities. I always wondered where the money raised by the sales of the tables at the event went; it’s good to hear that it goes for a variety of important causes.
    My only quibble is when you said this,
    “The lighting in the back garden was stunning — and there got a chance to check in with New America Foundation Chairman and Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife Wendy. I wish Schmidt was Secretary of State or maybe something like Secretary of the next US-collaboratively sculpted global network.”
    If I was selecting Schmidt’s first government job, I think I would nominate him to be Ambassador to China.


  24. Tony C. says:

    The exceptionally funny President Obama at last night’s White
    House Correspondents’ Dinner:
    “Jonas brothers are here, they’re out there somewhere. Sasha annd
    Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for
    you: predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I’m
    Yup, he knocked ’em dead allright…


  25. Steve Clemons says:

    Paul — thanks for the very generous and thoughtful note.
    Martha — yes, the oil slick was still going, and many of the senior White House staff I saw that night actually left right after the dinner as early as they could to go back to the White House to work on the policy issues related to the fact that there is both an environmental disaster underway and a jobs disaster. They had to package some kinds of support for the fishermen who would be displaced by closing the fisheries — and preparing Obama for his trip to Louisiana that next morning.
    Dan — sobering note. You would have been most welcome at our table, and sometime I’ll visit yours up in Boston.
    All best, steve


  26. Dan Kervick says:

    “I regret that POA, Kervick, Kotz, WigWag, charming Nadine, the adorable Footwear & Watch spammers, as well as Marcus and I couldn’t make it to table 214 this year.”
    My table was in the far, far, far, far, far outer ring of the banquet hall – so far out it was in Boston actually.
    The spammers were there, and regaled us with their global insights. I regard them as the 21st century equivalents of Andrew Carnegie and Alfred Nobel.
    We were also expecting to be joined by a charming pair of sea turtles of our acquaintance. They were making their way up from the Gulf Coast to Massachusetts: the Commonwealth is still the only state in the union where sea turtles can get married. But the partners were detained by a sudden and very unexpected bout of death, and sent their apologies.


  27. Paul Norheim says:

    Perhaps it’s worth reminding new and old readers – before the
    flood of moralistic and angry comments arrive (or not, since Steve
    didn’t mention Maureen Dowd?), that although Steve has been on
    a hell of a party this weekend, this is also part of his job.
    Without this chat with influential people at glitzy parties, he
    would have less interesting stuff to write about here later, and we
    would have less to discuss at this blog.
    Like it or not, but TWN would not be what it is without the
    informal connections Steve makes and cultivates all the time. A
    couple of sentences said during these informal chats around a
    table or late at night may trigger an interesting post written
    weeks or months from now – if he’s able to trespass the captcha.


  28. Martha Nakajima says:

    And during all this fiddling wasn’t the oil slick burning?


  29. Paul Norheim says:

    Oh Steve,
    why are you doing this to us? My self confidence just vanished…
    The only thing I’ve been able to brag about during all these years,
    is the fact that I’ve seen King Harald of Norway many times on
    TV, and that the former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie greeted
    me twice when I was a kid (not on TV, we didn’t even have a TV
    in Addis Ababa in the 60’s).
    I regret that POA, Kervick, Kotz, WigWag, charming Nadine, the
    adorable Footwear & Watch spammers, as well as Marcus and I
    couldn’t make it to table 214 this year. Zero hard feelings though.
    And congrats for becoming Editor-at-Large at TPM!


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