by Clarence Page
Was President Obama really joking at this year's White House Correspondents' Association dinner? Or was he showing, as I suspect, early signs of the second-term blues?
It's fashionable for critics to harrumph with outrage over the chummy elbow-massaging CSPAN-covered spring "nerd prom" of politicians, media moguls, Hollywood stars and, here and there, some actual
But sometimes actual news or, at least, useful insights break out, especially if you listen for hidden messages in the president's traditionally humorous roast of himself and others.
Right off the bat, Obama drew contrasts between his first and second terms. "How do you like my new entrance music?" he asked the crowd after half-dancing his way to the podium to the pounding beat of a rap tune.
"Rush Limbaugh warned you about this," he quipped. "Second term, baby. We're changing things around here."
He also turned the paranoid right's Obama myths on their head: "I'm not the strapping young Muslim socialist I used to be."
But some of his humor made one wonder whether he was actually joking.
"Some folks still don't think I spend enough time with
"Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?" he added. The crowd laughed even more. But the line had an edge to it that even Obama seemed to notice. "I'm sorry," he said, expressing mock regret. "I get frustrated sometimes."
Go for the pain, I have heard wise standup comedians advise rising would-be comics. The day-to-day pain of life gives comedians some of their best material. Obama's day-to-day political pain seemed to produce his most memorable punch lines.
"Everybody has got plenty of advice," he sighed. "(
Obama was responding to a column by Dowd, in full mean-girl mode, praising his ability to connect emotionally with people but opining that "he still has not learned how to govern."
"No one on
Obama's response: You're living in a fantasy world, Maureen. Yet she's also right. Obama's response was funny, partly because the truth hurts.
Days after appearing with other former presidents at the dedication ceremony for President George W. Bush's presidential library in Dallas, Obama certainly doesn't want to experience the plunge in approval ratings that sunk Bush's legacy.
Yet the day after this year's dinner, a
Yet charm is one of the few avenues he has left as he pushes such remaining priorities as a sweeping budget deal and comprehensive immigration reform.
Unlike Lyndon B. Johnson, who had a Democratic majority in both houses of
Arm-twisting has its place, but it doesn't do much good on core ideological issues like gun control, against which conservatives are remarkably resistant even to polls. His headaches may well get worse after the 2014 midterms, which traditionally draw voters who are older, more conservative and more anti-incumbent toward whomever is sitting in the
No wonder this president is showing signs of the second-term blues. No joke.
Obama's Second-Term Blues | Politics