When Pols joke around
President Barack Obama and Governor Bobby Jindal squared off last week a super formal white-tie affair — the annual Gridiron Club dinner.
But the issue in dispute was not anything of national — or international — importance. It was just about who was funnier? Who had the best lines?
I am copy-pasting their remarks. President Obama’s speech comes courtesy the White House and Governor Jindal’s is from The Fix, a Washington Post blog.
President Obama’s speech
Before I begin, I know some of you have noticed that I’m dressed a little differently from the other gentlemen.
Because of sequester, they cut my tails. My joke writers have been placed on furlough. I know a lot of you reported that no one will feel any immediate impact because of the sequester. Well, you’re about to find out how wrong you are.
Of course, there’s one thing in Washington that didn’t get cut — the length of this dinner. Yet more proof that the sequester makes no sense.
As you know, I last attended the Gridiron dinner two years ago. Back then, I addressed a number of topics — a dysfunctional Congress, a looming budget crisis, complaints that I don’t spend enough time with the press. It’s funny, it seems like it was just yesterday.
We noticed that some folks couldn’t make it this evening. It’s been noted that Bob Woodward (iconic Washington Post journalist) sends his regrets, which Gene Sperling (head of Obama’s National Economic Council) predicted. I have to admit this whole brouhaha had me a little surprised. Who knew Gene could be so intimidating? Or let me phrase it differently — who knew anybody named Gene could be this intimidating?
Now I know that some folks think we responded to Woodward too aggressively. But hey, when has — can anybody tell me when an administration has ever regretted picking a fight with Bob Woodward? What’s the worst that could happen?
But don’t worry. We’re all friends again in the spirit of that wonderful song. As you may have heard, Bob invited Gene over to his place. And Bob says he actually thinks that I should make it too. And I might take him up on the offer. I mean, nothing says “not a threat” like showing up at somebody’s house with guys with machine guns.
Now, since I don’t often speak to a room full of journalists — — I thought I should address a few concerns tonight. Some of you have said that I’m ignoring the Washington press corps — that we’re too controlling. You know what, you were right. I was wrong and I want to apologize in a video you can watch exclusively at whitehouse.gov.
While we’re on this subject, I want to acknowledge Ed Henry (Fox News correspondent and president of White House Correspondents’ Association), who is here — who is the fearless leader of the Washington press corps now. And at Ed’s request, tonight I will take one question from the press. Jay (Obama’s press secretary Jay Carney), do we have a question? Surprisingly, it’s a question from Ed Henry. “Mr. President, will you be taking any questions tonight?” I’m happy to answer that. No, Ed, I will not.
I also want to recognize David Corn. He’s here from Mother Jones magazine. He brought his iPhone. So Bobby Jindal, if you thought your remarks were off the record, ask Mitt Romney about that.
I have to say, I thought Bobby was incredibly funny this evening. I thought he was terrific. Amy Klobuchar (a US senator from Minnesota who also spoke at the Gridiron dinner) was sparkling and fantastic and fabulous. I am worried about Al Franken (also a Minnesota senator who in his previous career wrote for and performed in popular TV show Saturday Night Live) though. How do you start off being one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live and end up being the second-funniest Senator in Minnesota? How the mighty have fallen.
Now I’m sure that you’ve noticed that there’s somebody very special in my life who is missing tonight, somebody who has always got my back, stands with me no matter what and gives me hope no matter how dark things seem. So tonight, I want to publicly thank my rock, my foundation — thank you, Nate Silver (New York Times psephologist who predicted Obama’s victory).
Of course as I begin my second term, our country is still facing enormous challenges. We have a lot of work to do — that, Marco Rubio (Republican senator who gave the Republican response to Obama’s state of the union speech), is how you take a sip of water.
As I was saying, we face major challenges. March in particular is going to be full of tough decisions. But I want to assure you, I have my top advisors working around the clock. After all, my March Madness bracket isn’t going to fill itself out. And don’t worry — there is an entire team in the situation room as we speak, planning my next golf outing, right now at this moment.
But those aren’t the only issues on my mind. As you are aware — as has been noted this evening — we’ve had to make some very tough, huge budget cuts apparently with no regard to long-term consequences, which means I know how you feel in journalism. I’ve been trying to explain this situation to the American people, but clearly I am not perfect. After a very public mix-up last week, my communications team has provided me with an easy way to distinguish between Star Trek and Star Wars. Spock is what Maureen Dowd (a New York Times columnist) calls me. Darth Vader is what John Boehner (Speaker of the US House of Representatives) calls me.
Of course, maintaining credibility in this cynical atmosphere is harder than ever — incredibly challenging. My administration recently put out a photo of me skeet shooting and even that wasn’t enough for some people. Next week, we’re releasing a photo of me clinging to religion.
I’m also doing what I can to smooth things over with Republicans in Congress. In fact, these days John McCain (Republican senator and presidential candidate who Obama beat in 2008) and I are spending so much time together that he told me we were becoming friends. I said, “John, stop. Chuck Hagel (defense secretary) warned me how this ends up.”
It took a while, but I’m glad that the Senate finally confirmed my Secretary of Defense. And I have to say, I don’t know what happened to Chuck in those hearings. I know he worked hard, he studied his brief. And I even lent him my presidential debate team to work with him. It’s confusing what happened.
But all these changes to my team are tough to handle, I’ve got to admit. After nine years, I finally said goodbye to my chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau (who left recently to try his luck in Hollywood). watched him grow up. He’s almost like a son to me, he’s been with me so long. And I said to him when he first informed me of his decision, I said, “Favs, you can’t leave.”
And he answered with three simple words — “yes, I can.” Fortunately, he did not take the prompter on his way out. That would have been a problem.
With all these new faces, it’s hard to keep track of who is in, who is out. And I know it’s difficult for you guys as reporters. But I can offer you an easy way of remembering the new team. If Ted Cruz (first time senator from Texas, a favourite of the Republican party’s extreme right Tea Party wing) calls somebody a communist, then you know they’re in my cabinet.
Jack Lew is getting started on his new role as Treasury Secretary. Jack is so low key, he makes Tim Geithner look like Tom Cruise. Don’t worry, everybody, Jack signed off on that joke or a five year old drew a slinky. I don’t know which.
Another big change has been at the State Department. Everybody has noticed that obviously. And let’s face it — Hillary is a tough act to follow. But John Kerry (the new secretary of state) is doing great so far. He is doing everything he can to ensure continuity. Frankly, though, I think it’s time for him to stop showing up at work in pantsuits. It’s a disturbing image. It really is. I don’t know where he buys them. He is a tall guy.
And even though I’m just beginning my second term, I know that some folks are looking ahead to bigger things. Look, it’s no secret that my Vice President is still ambitious. But let’s face it, his age is an issue. Just the other day, I had to take Joe (Biden) aside and say, “Joe, you are way too young to be the pope.” “You can’t do it. You got to mature a little bit.”
Now, I do want to end on a serious note. I know that there are people who get frustrated with the way journalism is practiced these days. And sometimes those people are me. But the truth is our country needs you and our democracy needs you.
In an age when all it takes to attract attention is a Twitter handle and some followers, it’s easier than ever to get it wrong. But it’s more important than ever to get it right. And I am grateful for all the journalists who do one of the toughest jobs there is with integrity and insight and dedication — and a sense of purpose — that goes beyond a business model or a news cycle.
This year alone, reporters have exposed corruption here at home and around the world. They’ve risked everything to bring us stories from places like Syria and Kenya, stories that need to be told. And they’ve helped people understand the ways in which we’re all connected — how something that happens or doesn’t happen halfway around the world or here in Washington can have consequences for American families.
These are extraordinary times. The stakes are high and the tensions can sometimes be high as well. But while we’ll always have disagreements, I believe that we share the belief that a free press — a press that questions us, that holds us accountable, that sometimes gets under our skin — is absolutely an essential part of our democracy.
So I want to thank everybody for not just a wonderful evening — and, Chuck, I want to thank you for your outstanding presidency — but I also just want to thank you for the work that you do each and every day. And in the words of one of my favorite Star Trek characters — Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise — “May the force be with you.”
Here is Governor Jindal’s speech
Thanks for that kind introduction Chuck (Gridiron Club president Chuck Lewis).
I’m honored to be here tonight, and to have this opportunity to represent my people.
As you know, my people are one of our nation’s most accomplished minority groups – doctors…lawyers…business owners…and of course, I’m referring to the Republican Party.
They say this is a place where you can come and tell jokes about the President…poke fun at yourself…set political ambition aside and just generally say anything you want.
Kind of like the Romney campaign.
I spoke to Mitt the other day…told him that I was doing the Gridiron dinner…he said that 47 percent of you can’t take a joke.
This of course is the night for the Washington press corps and the President to kick back, share a few laughs, not take things seriously and just generally enjoy each other’s company.
Kind of like the President’s interview on 60 Minutes.
The Gridiron Dinner used to be known as the night the media and the administration set aside their differences — back in the days when they had some.
I was on the treadmill the other day and I caught something about the supreme and infallible leader ordained from on high stepping down, and I got all excited, but then I realized it was just the Pope not the President.
You may not realize this, but even though the President may look calm and relaxed…he is sitting here right now quaking in his boots…he’s terrified that I’ll upstage him again…like I did in that State of the Union Republican response a few years ago.
Actually…after my infamous State of the Union response in 2009, I appreciate this opportunity to try to be funny on purpose.
I think my performance that night would have been better if I had just taken a 10-minute sip of water, interrupted by 30 seconds of speaking.
After my disastrous speech…people wrote and said a lot of mean stuff. But when they spoke to me in person, they were kind as can be.
But…there was one exception to that. My dad. He called that night and said simply this – “I told you to go to medical school.”
But…what a difference a day makes…now some people have asked me if I intend to run for President in 2016?
And the answer is that I have no plans to run. I’ve made that clear, over and over again…in Iowa…in New Hampshire…and in South Carolina.
There is a reason I’ve got no plans to run.
I mean, come on. What chance does a skinny guy with a dark complexion and a funny name have to get elected president of the United States?
The truth is – I am too skinny to run. At least that’s what my friend Chris Christie (New Jersey governor, a staple of late night comics for his ample waistline) keeps telling me.
Chris pointed out that my biceps are half the size of Obama’s guns. Not the president’s, Michelle’s (first lady Michelle Obama).
You all don’t know this…but the President and I had the exact same campaign slogan years ago.
But unfortunately UPS sued both of us and made us stop using it…you remember our slogan– ‘what can brown do for you?’ Speaking of brown, I was hoping to see my good friend John Boehner here.
We go to the same tanning salon.
When I first went to congress, I would always get asked by friends –“hey, have you met my friend congressman so and so.”
So I of course responded – I don’t know, all white people look alike to me.
After a while…I found a better answer.
I would simply say…um…let me think…is he a middle aged white guy, slightly balding, a little thick around the middle?” They would always say – “yep, that’s him”…Worked every time.
I did a lot of campaigning in the last election.
I was one of Rick Perry’s (Republican governor of Texas and a presidential hopeful who left the race after a series of gaffes — most memorably the third thing he couldn’t remember) strongest supporters. I supported Rick because he’s a loyal friend, a great governor, and…oops…I forget the third reason.
I’m now serving my sixth year as governor. That’s the longest I have ever held the same job at the same place since the sixth grade.
I was feeling bad for myself, thinking my career had stalled out – but then I remembered it could be worse…I could be Steny Hoyer (Democratic member of US House of Representatives since 1981).
You’ll have to excuse me for a second. I’m drying up. I need a drink of water.
I was hoping to finally meet Mayor Bloomberg (New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg) here tonight………that’s a lie
I was also hoping to see Harry Reid (majority leader in US senate, a Democrat)…..that’s another lie
I was actually hoping to see my good friend John McCain here tonight.
In 2008, John talked to me about the Vice Presidency. I told John not to consider me or even vet me for VP.
I wasn’t ready for the job and I was afraid he might do something crazy…glad we avoided that.
I had a meeting with a man earlier today who says that his name is Reince Priebus and he insists that he is Chairman of the Republican Party (which Priebus is, winning a second term in January).
Hard to imagine a better name than “Reince Priebus” to connect with the working class people and show that we aren’t one-percenters.
At least I had the political foresight at the age of 4 to change my name to Bobby.
I see Mark Sanford (Republican ex-governor of South Carolina whose political career went into a tailspin after an extra-marital affair with an Argentinian woman in 2009) is running for office again. Sanford was so committed to outsourcing that he even shipped his wife’s job overseas.
It was revealed this week that Sanford asked his ex-wife to run his campaign…Hard to believe Republicans have a gender gap.
It gets worse. Sanford offered to pay his ex-wife this time. In Louisiana, if you try to get a woman back in your life by telling her you will pay her…that’s called solicitation.
Unfortunately, there has been an uptick in sex scandals in Washington D.C. these days.
The Menendez (Democratic senator Bob Menendez) scandal is disturbing. Soliciting prostitution is completely unacceptable. We would never put up with that in Louisiana.
Great to see the new Senator from Massachusetts – Elizabeth Warren (whose American Indian ancestry became an election issue in 2012). My staff tells me we’ve got a lot in common.
Well from one Indian politician (Jindal is Indian American) to another, I want to wish you all the best in your new job.
I ran into Joe Biden earlier today. I don’t think he recognized me though. He asked me to go get him a Slurpee. You know, sometimes I wonder where we would be without Vice President Biden. And then I realize: Pretty much exactly where we are right now.
I see Eric Holder (US attorney general) is with us tonight. I actually heard a rumor that due to sequestration, the attorney general can only afford to ship a couple hundred illegal guns across the border this year.
I saw a bumper sticker on the way over here that said, “Honk if you’ve been released by Janet Napolitano (secretary of homeland security).”
I understand that to save money – the President’s Secret Service detail is being replaced by Joe Biden with a shotgun. Mr. President, I see a lot of famous people here tonight. Some of our top journalists. I don’t see Bob Woodward, though. He sends his…regrets.
It’s good to see Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper here. Somebody better find a Taco Bell that’s open late, I’m sure he’ll have the munchies later.
You know, a lot of people warned me that if I voted for Mitt Romney, a Wall Street robber baron who hid his money in secretive Grand Cayman bank accounts would end up running the U.S. Treasury.
I see Jack Lew is here tonight. Good thing that job went to you instead, Jack.
Speaking of cabinet secretaries. Mr. President, while it was a nice bipartisan gesture, I still think it was a bad idea to have Romney’s pollsters prepare Chuck Hagel for his confirmation hearing…
And Mr. President I want to commend you on your inspired choice for Secretary of State.
Someone whose integrity and experience inform the world of your Administration’s seriousness and depth.
Let’s all give Dennis Rodman (basketball player who was in North Korea recently) a hand.
Speaking of athletes. I saw that the President went golfing with Tiger Woods recently. Tiger reportedly said the President has “amazing touch.”
The last time Tiger said that he lost millions in endorsements and a hot Swedish wife.
This may surprise you, but I’m looking forward to President Obama’s second term.
It will be refreshing to hear him stop blaming all the country’s problems on the last four years.
People say that the President and I both have trouble laughing at ourselves.
We can’t laugh at ourselves. That would be racist.
My home state of Louisiana is of course known for colorful politicians.
You may have heard that when our former Governor Edwin Edwards got out of jail last year he immediately married a woman 50 years his younger.
But you may not have read his quote about that…and I’m not making this up…he said “you’re only as young as the woman you feel.”
My wife didn’t feel that was funny.
David Duke (a Louisiana man who was Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan) was colorful…his favorite color was white. This has been great fun here tonight.
I’m sure that my parents could never have imagined me standing here, particularly after my State of the Union Response. This dinner is a sign of America’s greatness.
The press makes fun of the person running the country, the President makes fun of himself, the opposition party pokes fun at the party in power…and no one gets arrested.
One serious note in closing — Having immigrant parents is not always the easiest thing…there are language issues, assimilation issues, and the like.
But I will tell you this — The greatest thing about having parents who are immigrants, is that they force you to understand the value and uniqueness of our freedom.
Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion…you name it, they put great value on it and they never take it for granted.
And to them, there is no greater person than the one who has sacrificed all to keep us free.
I want to thank you all for letting me participate in this little piece of freedom here tonight.
Good night and God Bless