THE ‘NETTE EFFECT: Are we mature enough?
THERE’S A BIZARRE TRADITION in American politics that is upheld each year.
The century-old annual White House Correspondents Association dinner started in the year of World War I, 1914, by a group of eminent journalists assigned to the White House. Originally, the group lobbied for greater access to, and more information on, the United States president and issues surrounding the White House. The dinner celebrated excellence in reporting on the White House, with hard core journalism at its centre.
Then over the years it moved from an all-male gathering where there was generous drinking, gag newsreels followed up with light-hearted moments, to, for some journalists, an uncomfortable closeness between journalists and those they were reporting on.
It has turned into an affair where the presidents are given an off night to roast their political foes, and just for that period the issue of taxes or calls for sacrifices are omitted and done so with the support of the media.
You could almost feel left out if you are not included on the president’s list of zingers for this annual exercise attended by comedians, actors, pundits and your plain old celebrities who are famous for being famous.
President Barack Obama, as expected, was in ripping form as he tore into his most severe critics in jest, using off-colour comments that would otherwise be condemned by mainstream media. His targets included, apart from those in the opposing party, some of his own colleagues.
Calling it his fourth-quarter term, Obama, who cannot run for office again based on the two-term legal limit, took a potshot at his vice-president Joe Biden and his somewhat inappropriate shoulder massages.
A few of his top-rated jokes were listed as:
• “Today, thanks to Obamacare, you no longer have to worry about losing your insurance if you lose your job. You’re welcome, Senate Democrats.”
• On those who call Obama aloof: “Six years into my presidency, some people still say I’m arrogant and aloof, condescending. Some people are so dumb. No wonder I don’t meet with them,” he quipped.
• He jabbed Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign: “Just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year, and she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.”
• “Dick Cheney said I was the worst president of his lifetime, which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime,” Obama joked of the former vice-president, who was considered very influential in the Bush White House.
• “I love that man. We’ve gotten so close that some places in Indiana won’t serve us pizza anymore,” Obama said in reference to Indiana’s recent religious freedom law that angered LGBT rights activists.
• On ABC’s sitcom Blackish, he said: “Being Blackish only makes you popular for so long.”
• “The polar vortex caused so many record lows, they renamed it MSNBC.”
I got to thinking, after witnessing last week’s salvo between Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and University of the West Indies vice-chancellor-elect and outgoing principal of the Cave Hill Campus, Sir Hilary Beckles, whether one of these settings could not be arranged.
After all, once the arrow had been carefully selected from his quiver, placed with deadly accuracy, propelled by the force of his tongue, and found its target, Sir Hilary must have expected a reaction. We as a media do.
What better way to let off steam than to provide the political head with a Cinderella pass, by which I mean a night where he has limited time to fire back at his critics.
Legend has it that there was one leader who developed his own brand of roasting and preferred to deliver his cutting remarks in person or over the telephone.
Are we mature enough to handle such a pass?
The political leader would obviously be more annoyed than he lets on publicly but it would open the way to let the others get a human view of him.
One critic of Obama’s night off gathered from it that he probably swears in private, which would make him exactly like every other politician – almost.
But then again, part of politics is suppressing your frustrations, anger and bitterness.