President Barack Obama, addressing an audience of Washington journalists and Hollywood celebrities at a ritual annual dinner, spared no jokes about himself.
“These days, I look in the mirror and I have to admit, I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be,” the president said at last night’s black-tie dinner of the White House Correspondents’ Association. “Time passes. You get a little gray.”
The president, appearing before almost 3,000 people assembled for an annual dinner that attracts the capital’s leaders as well as stars of cinema and television, was ready with jokes about his recent reference to California’s attorney general, Kamala Harris, as the nation’s best-looking.
“Even after all this time, I still make rookie mistakes,” Obama said. “Like, I’m out in California, we’re at a fundraiser, we’re having a nice time. I happen to mention that Kamala Harris is the best-looking attorney general in the country. As you might imagine, I got in trouble when I got back home. Who knew Eric Holder was so sensitive?” -- he said, alluding to his own attorney general, as opposed to his wife.
At this dinner in which the president traditionally shares a stage with a television comedian, Obama served as the first act to humorist Conan O’Brien, serving up lines about not only himself but also congressional leaders as well. And both Obama and O’Brien dished out jokes about the media for an audience of actors including Barbra Streisand and Kevin Spacey.
“Of course, the White House press corps is here,” Obama said in his appearance at the Washington Hilton Hotel. “I know CNN has taken some knocks lately, but the fact is I admire their commitment to cover all sides of a story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate.”
“The fact is I really do respect the press,” the president said. “I recognize that the press and I have different jobs to do. My job is to be president; your job is to keep me humble. Frankly, I think I’m doing my job better.”
The president shared some jokes about the 2012 election contest in which he defeated Republican Mitt Romney, whose campaign benefited financially from the supporting super-PAC donations of Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corp. and one of the world’s richest men.
“Did you know that Sheldon Adelson spent $100 million of his own money last year on negative ads?” Obama asked his audience last night. “You’ve got to really dislike me to spend that kind of money. I mean, that’s Oprah money. You could buy an island and call it ‘Nobama’ for that kind of money.”
“Sheldon would have been better off offering me $100 million to drop out of the race,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t have taken it, but I’d have thought about it.”
His wife, Michelle, the president added, “ would have taken it -- You think I’m joking? ”
The president joked about the problems he has been having dealing with Republicans in Congress, naming Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“Even after I’ve done all this, some folks still don’t think I spend enough time with Congress,” Obama said. “‘Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?’ they ask,” he said. “Why don’t you get a drink with Mitch McConnell? I’m sorry. I get frustrated sometimes.”
The president insisted that he is “not giving up.” In fact, he said, he is taking his “charm offensive on the road” as he named some of the Tea Party’s favorite Republicans. He is planning a barbeque with Texas Senator Ted Cruz, he joked, a bluegrass concert with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, and “a book-burning” with Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
“My charm offensive has helped me learn some interesting things about what’s going on in Congress -- it turns out, absolutely nothing,” he said.
The president did not leave the stage without poking fun at opponents who contend that he was not born in the U.S. Noting that he had attended the dedication for former President George W. Bush’s presidential library in Texas last week, he said: “I’m also hard at work on plans for the Obama Library. And some have suggested that we put it in my birthplace, but I’d rather keep it in the United States.”
The president closed on a serious note at this dinner, citing the April 15 bombing of the Boston Marathon that claimed three lives and injured more than 260 people.
“These have been some very hard days for too many of our citizens,” Obama said. “Even as we gather here tonight, our thoughts are not far from the people of Boston and the people of West, Texas. There are families in the Midwest who are coping with some terrible floods.”
“But even when the days seemed darkest, we have seen humanity shine at its brightest,” he said.
“And so, those of us in this room tonight, we are incredibly lucky,” the president said. “And the fact is, we can do better -- all of us. Those of us in public office, those of us in the press, those who produce entertainment for our kids, those with power, those with influence -- all of us, including myself, we can strive to value those things that I suspect led most of us to do the work that we do in the first place -- because we believed in something that was true, and we believed in service, and the idea that we can have a lasting, positive impact on the lives of the people around us.”