Opinion

White House Correspondents’ Dinner a missed opportunity for Obama

Photo of Raymond Siller
Raymond Siller
Former Head Writer, "The Tonight Show"

As someone who has written humor for Republican presidents at past White House Correspondents’ dinners, I can attest to the Sisyphean challenge for a Republican president to get laughs from the overwhelmingly liberal members of the media in the room. Saturday night they were so in the tank for Obama that the invitations should have read black tie and snorkel.

The basic rule when doing standup is to deadpan it as if you’re the only one in the room who doesn’t think or even get that it’s funny. No doubt President Obama’s coaches told him this. Each time he unleashed a punch line, he initially complied. But the moment people in the audience laughed, swooned or threw their adult diapers up on the dais, he couldn’t resist flashing that creepy grin. You can’t teach an old narcissist new tricks. (No dog gag intended.)

Obama can’t admit making mistakes or fibbing and I’m sure his staff is reluctant to let self-deprecating humor get through to him, even though self-effacing works best at these events. It would be like the North Korean defense chief suggesting impotent rocket jokes to Kim Jong-Un. Can you picture David Plouffe and David Axelrod pitching Obama yuks? “Mr. President, here’s one that’ll kill: ‘Congressman Darrell Issa plans to issue a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder in the Fast and Furious fiasco. Take my subpoena … please!’” Obama did lob gentle shots at the Secret Service, the GSA and Hillary (Clinton, not Rosen), but he never whipped out his big stick where his own DNA is imprinted. Like, that the national debt has increased by more than $5 trillion on his watch. Or that millions of Americans are unemployed or underwater. Nor did he mention his endless pandering to groups, his taxpayer-funded campaign events or his luxurious family vacations.

Or the price of gas. “I’m trying to set an example on my alternate energy proposals. I rode here tonight aboard Shopping Cart One.”

In recent years, members of the media have competed to snag Hollywood celebrities to sit at their tables, the odd intersection of Beauties and the Beasts. Surreal is an overused word, but it really was surreal seeing the president of the United States doing his best to make Lindsay Lohan laugh. And Kim Kardashian, the star of a reality show. For three and a half years we’ve been watching our cool commander-in-chief disengaged from reality.

Raymond Siller is a four-time Emmy-nominated television writer and political consultant.