President Obama got the Marine Band to give him a special musical introduction at the Gridiron Club's annual dinner on Saturday night. After the traditional “Hail to the Chief,” Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Bennear sprang to the stage and as the band struck up the familiar chords of Bruce Springsteen’s anthem, belted out:
“Born in the U-S-A! Born in the U-S-A!”
“Some things just bear repeating,” said Obama, as an audience of more than 600 government officials and media executives broke up at the allusion to the long-running rumors over the president’s birth certificate.
Obama’s speech, a series of jokes about himself and his political rivals, capped an evening of song and satire at the 126th Gridiron dinner, an evening in which Washington political reporters don outlandish costumes to lampoon the politicians they cover at a white-tie banquet with many of the targets in attendance.
The guests, gathered family-style around long tables, included two of Obama’s potential GOP 2012 rivals: Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, the evening’s Republican keynoter, and Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi. In addition to the reporters’ songs and skits, the evening traditionally features three speeches: one from a leading Democrat, one from a leading Republican, and one from the president.
Obama thanked Barbour, who has joked about his less-than-svelte physique, for supporting first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to promote exercise for children, but added: “When Michelle said you need to run, she didn’t mean for president.”
Running through the Republican field, he said that he’s “a little biased toward my dear, dear, dear friend Jon Huntsman.” Utah’s former Republican governor, who accepted a post as Obama’s ambassador to China, is stepping down next month to explore a run for president. Obama joked about his own plans to sabotage that. “He is truly the yin to my yang, and I am going to make sure every primary voter knows it,” Obama laughed.
He also kidded Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, suggesting that his 2008 Democratic presidential rival’s advocacy in the Middle East for regime change has gone a little too far. “These past few weeks, it’s been difficult to sleep with Hillary out there on Pennsylvania Avenue, shouting and throwing rocks the the windows,” Obama said.
Daniels acknowledged the presidential buzz that’s been surrounding him, and noted that this is the time of the political season when potential candidates begin jockeying for position.
“If anyone is good for jockeying, it’s me,” said the Hoosier chief executive, who is listed at 5-foot-7. Daniels also cracked wise about the size of some his fellow Republicans. The governor, whose arm is in a sling, told the crowd not to believe the story that he’s recovering from rotator cuff surgery. “The truth is, I broke a rib travelling to the governors’ conference,” he said. “I drew a middle seat between Chris Christie and Haley Barbour.”
He also mock-lamented recent new strains on Indiana’s state budget. “After the Chicago mayor’s race, now we’ve got to build a missile defense system against F-bombs,” Daniels said, referring to the favorite expletive of Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, who was in the audience.
Daniels also took a crack at several potential rivals for the Republican presidential nomination. He mocked Mitt Romney for debating with himself (Obama later joked that there were two Romneys occupying the same “host body”) and he noted that when Mike Huckabee mistakenly said Barack Obama was raised in Kenya, Sarah Palin corrected him by saying that Obama “hasn’t even been to Europe.”
Speaking for the Democrats, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that she and Daniels have a lot in common: Both of them have served as Midwestern governors -- Sebelius was the chief executive in Kansas before joining Obama’s administration. Both have served in presidential Cabinets: Daniels was President George W. Bush’s budget director.
“And neither of us is going to be president in 2012,” Sebelius added.
The HHS secretary also suggested that Obama consider folding the Transportation Security Administration into her department. It would be convenient for airline passengers, she said, because they could obtain “a boarding pass and a colonoscopy at the same time.”
All of the speakers paid tribute to David Broder, the longtime Washington Postpolitical reporter and columnist and past president of the Gridiron Club who died Wednesday.
And at the end of the evening, Obama got one last laugh. He told the crowd that the bar would be open until midnight, and that the government is too -- “the last I checked."