President Barack Obama unveiled his “secret agenda” for a second term last night, vowing to “win the war on Christmas” and replace the former ban on gays serving openly in the military with a policy called “It’s Raining Men.”
Then the mock agenda was abruptly cut short.
“I had a lot more material prepared, but I have to get the Secret Service home in time for their new curfew,” Obama deadpanned at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.
The tuxedo-clad president, facing re-election this year, also went into campaign mode, taking aim at his likely Republican opponent in November, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Noting they both have degrees from Harvard University, Obama said, “I have one, he has two. What a snob.”
Turning toward former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has said he will announce his withdrawal from the Republican presidential primary race this week, Obama said, “Newt, there’s still time, man.”
Late-night comic Jimmy Kimmel, the celebrity keynote speaker of the night and host of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” returned some of the political fire on Obama.
“Remember when the country rallied around you in hopes of a better tomorrow?” Kimmel asked the president. “That was hilarious.”
Warning Obama that he might not approve of some of his jokes, Kimmel instructed: “Cover your ears, if that’s physically possible.”
The annual black-tie dinner is a Washington tradition dating to 1920. What was once a more modest, low-key affair for White House reporters and administration officials morphed decades ago into a televised media circus.
Hollywood celebrities now routinely flock to the event at the invitation of media organizations.
Among the big names who showed up last night were George Clooney, Steven Spielberg, Charlize Theron, Zooey Deschanel, Diane Keaton, Claire Danes, and Uggie, the dog from the Oscar- winning film “The Artist.”
Then there were the celebrities who are famous just for being famous -- and often go by a single name. There was Lindsay (Lohan). And there was Kim (Kardashian).
More than 2,000 of the elite from Washington and Hollywood crammed into a ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel to dine on Texas-rubbed petite filet with a Calvados sauce, along with red curry jumbo shrimp.
Dessert featured a chocolate truffle mousse layered with chocolate genoise and almond macaroon.
Washington A-listers included former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and -- fresh off the presidential campaign trail-- former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
“I guess it just wasn’t Rick’s year,” Kimmel said. “Rick’s year was 1954. It’s one thing to oppose gay marriage. It’s another thing to do it in a sweater vest.”
Obama was at times self-deprecating, at times a jokester, and at times a savvy campaigner.
“Some have said I blame too many problems on my predecessor,” Obama said. “But let’s not forget that’s a practice that was initiated by George W. Bush.”
Last year’s dinner occurred on the eve of what is arguably one of Obama’s biggest accomplishments: the killing of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Obama took note of the one-year anniversary, albeit with humor.
“Last year at this time, we finally delivered justice to one of the world’s most notorious individuals,” Obama said, as a photo of business tycoon Donald Trump appeared on a jumbo screen. Obama had mocked Trump at last year’s dinner.
In a friendly jab at former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2008, Obama rewrote her now-famous joke from the 2008 Republican convention.
“What’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull?” Obama asked the crowd. “A pit bull is delicious.”
The bipartisan gathering has long been a night of good humor and gentle ribbing among all of Washington’s power brokers, and Kimmel gave equal time in his monologue to mocking Republicans and Democrats.
He said Texas Representative Ron Paul, who is still a Republican presidential hopeful, looks like “the guy who gets unhooded at the end of every Scooby Doo episode.”
Welcoming Gingrich to the dinner, Kimmel said, “I guess the checks cleared,” in an apparent reference to the Georgia Republican’s mounting campaign debt.
Kimmel praised Uggie, the dog-star of “The Artist,” for being able to roll over on command. “He’s a Democrat,” Kimmel said.
Still, he saved much of his ammunition for Obama, who laughed and smiled through most of the routine.
“President Obama wants everyone to have health care, whether they want it or not,” Kimmel said. “I think I figured it out. You’re not from Kenya. It’s even worse: You’re from Canada.”
Proceeds from the dinner go toward scholarships for aspiring journalists and awards for prize-winning reporting.
The first president to attend the dinner was Calvin Coolidge, in 1924.
Until 1962, the dinner was open only to men. Women were not permitted until former White House reporter Helen Thomas protested the policy and former President John Kennedy refused to attend the dinner unless the ban on women was lifted, according to the White House Correspondents Association’s website.
Observing a ballroom filled with politicians, journalists and Hollywood celebrities, Kimmel told the crowd, “Everything that is wrong with America is here tonight.”
To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
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