Monday, April 27, 2015

The Nerd Prom 2015, aka, the White House Correspondents' Dinner

The annual ritual of the White House Correspondents' Dinner, sponsored by the White House Correspondents' Association, took place on Saturday.

President Obama at White House Correspondents' Dinner White House 04/25/2015:

This speech-translator routine isn't even particularly original for the Correspondents' Dinner. George Bush at White House Correspondents Dinner:

I can certainly agree with Ezra Klein's opening sentence in his report on the 2015 edition, "The White House Correspondents' Dinner has become a strange event." (The joke was that Obama wasn’t joking Vox 04/27/2015)

As the title of his piece indicates, Klein thinks Obama used humor to say what he can't say so explicitly in his formal role as President.

I'm not convinced. As Ezra points out, the instantly-famous "anger translator" segment of his presentation was based on a previous comedy sketch.

So is this what Ezra describes as, "There are no jokes there. There's just Obama saying what he has to say and Luther saying what Obama actually believes."

It's too bad that Sigmund Freud isn't around to include this phenomenon in a revised edition of his book, The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious.

Maybe it's a bit of political Puritanism on my part. But I really don't like the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Among Presidential rituals, it ranks with the National Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by a rightwing Christian fundamentalist group, and any ceremony that honors the memory of the Confederacy as such as things the President should not do.

On the Dinner, though, I'm willing to give the Presidents a partial break. If the leading Washington reporters and pundits want to throw any pretense of being journalistic watchdogs to the wind and suck up the the President at a glamor-overdose event, the President has strong incentive to play them for suckers. I get that.

But the event has become one where the President is expected to play comedian for the night. And even at its least obnoxious, it contributes to the merger of politics, government and show business to an extent I would rather not see. It encourages the toxic idea that politics is and should be a spectator sport, entertainment rather than serious business.

The low point of this came in 2004, when Shrub Bush did a comedy routine about there being no WMD in Iraq, the lie on which he had justified the invasion. It showed what contempt he had for the American people and how little sense of responsibility he felt about the lives of Americans lost in the war, not even to mention the lives of Iraqis killed for no good reason. A CNN report, Bush takes heat for WMD jokes 05/06/2015, gives a good sense of how grotesque it was, even while sticking to the stenographic this-side-says-the-other-side-says approach:

Democrats have seized on the matter, calling it astonishingly insensitive when Americans have died for their country in Iraq while the search for WMD has turned up nothing.

The administration had cited the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons program as one of the primary reasons for the need for war.

"It's inappropriate to the thousands of people obviously who have been wounded over there," Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday.

"This is a very serious issue. We've lost hundreds of troops, as you know, over there. Let's not be laughing about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction. ... We certainly should not be making light of the situation."

McAuliffe's Republican counterpart, Ed Gillespie, responded by saying people need to lighten up, that the president made the comment in jest.

He noted that the correspondents at the dinner laughed when the president made the remark. [my emphasis]
That last line was the very, very telling about the elite press. They did laugh at it. And those who did so demonstrated that they had no more sense of decency about the thing that Bush did.

On the Sunday morning horror show called Meet the Press of 04/27/2015, Chuck Todd was still complaining about the fuddy-duddies who criticized Bush the Magnificent, Liberator of Peoples and Scourge of the Heathen, for that reprehensible moment. The transcript doesn't appear to be available yet at the MTP website, nor the video clip of that part.

Mabe somebody at NBC News may have thought it was too embarrassing to show on the website? Ha! As if ...

I've previously referred to a few sentences from Jerry Brown his Inaugural Address as Governor in 2011. He was referring to the poor opinion Californians had of state government, not the White House Correspondents' Dinner. But his observation is relevant to it, as well: "Perhaps this is the reason why the public holds the state government in such low esteem. And that’s a profound problem, not just for those of us who are elected, but for our whole system of self-government. Without the trust of the people, politics degenerates into mere spectacle; and democracy declines, leaving demagoguery and cynicism to fill the void." (my emphasis)

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