Washington: a city of denials, spin, and political calculations. The Nation's former DC editor David Corn spent 2002-2007 blogging on the policies, personalities and lies that spew out of the nation's capital. The complete archive appears below. Corn is now the DC editor at Mother Jones.
The entry below is a posting from my personal blog at www.davidcorn.com. It was titled, "The Bushes Offer a Horse Jerk-off Joke But No Words for the Troops...and Other Impolite Observations From the White House Correspondents' Dinner."
No mention of the US troops being killed in Iraq but a horse jerk-off joke--that is one way to sum up the First Couple's appearance at the White House Correspondents' Dinner on Saturday evening.
This black-tie shindig is an annual ritual. Over two thousand DC media people and government officials mingle with imported Hollywood celebrities--hey there goes Richard Gere!--and the president of the moment shows up and entertains the feeling-good-about-themselves attendees with humorous (often self-deprecating) remarks. Last year, Bush made a crack about my book, The Lies of George W. Bush.
This evening, the Bush White House pulled a switcheroo. Bush started his routine by telling a joke he repeatedly used on the campaign trail. The gag pokes fun at a city slicker lost in a rural area, and what Bush didn't say is that he learned it during his unsuccessful 1978 congressional bid when his opponent told the joke to lampoon a certain Andover, Yale and Harvard grad who was trying to pass himself off as a Texan. As Bush-watchers in the ballroom familiar with this stale chestnut started to groan, Laura Bush stood up, walked to the podium, leaned into the microphone and said, "Not that old joke." She then told her husband to sit down, and she delivered a polished routine that ribbed her old man for being early-to-bed dull. She noted that she had told him, "If you really want to end tyranny in the world, you're going to have to stay up later."
Laura's well-written script included several shots of risque material. After revealing that come nine o'clock at night, "Mr. Excitement is sound asleep, and I'm watching Desperate Housewives," she added, "If those women think they're desperate, they ought to be with George." She then joked that she, Lynne Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice had hit Chippendale's late one night. And moments later--after referring to Barbara Bush as Don Corleone and joking about her husband's aversion to reading--she made fun of her number-one cowboy for knowing little of the ways of ranch life when they bought the spread in Crawford, Texas. Such a greenhorn was George, she explained, "he tried to milk the horse. What's more--it was a male horse."
It was a good performance but weird, for Laura had jabbed at her husband for not reading books, had suggested he was no powerhouse in bed, and had encouraged everyone in the room--and all those children at home glued to C-SPAN--to envision George W. Bush pulling on the penis of a horse. (I wondered how social conservative leader James Dobson, who was scheduled to be at the dinner, reacted.) It was not hard to figure out why the White House decided to have Laura upstage George. Her approval rating is almost twice his, and his number--in the mid-40s--are at a record low. But an HBO routine? Afterward, both Al Franken and Bill Maher were complaining that they could not have gotten away with that horse joke.
Laura's racy act was the talk of the town. But there was something more strange and discomforting about the evening than her channeling of Ellen DeGeneres. Neither she nor her husband once referred to the Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, particularly those who had recently lost their lives implementing Bush's policy and (according to the Bushes) defending the United States from evil. At a high-profile event of this nature, it certainly is customary for a president to joke, but he also often concludes with a serious sentiment. At the radio and television correspondents' dinner several weeks ago, Vice President Dick Cheney, standing in for Bush (who was on his way to the Pope's funeral), took a few stabs at humor then devoted most of his remarks to the deceased Pope. Last year, at one of these galas, Bush joked about his inability to find WMDs in Iraq--yeah, he made fun of the mission for which Americans had lost their lives--but then he saluted troops stationed overseas, noting their sacrifices.
His--and Laura's--non-recognition of the American troops (those dying and those doing the real hard work) was not a one-time phenomenon. Two nights earlier at Bush's first primetime news conference in a year, Bush said nothing about the Americans risking their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Not a word of thanks. Not a word of tribute for those recently killed in action. He did mention troop levels and said, "I believe we're making really good progress in Iraq." But nada regarding the men and women he had dispatched into harm's way. Is this a pattern? Of course, Bush does not have to remind people that Americans are being shot to death and blown up in Iraq and that the violence in Iraq has increased lately. But recent polls disclose that a half of Americans now believe that Bush deliberately misled the public about the (nonexistent) WMDs in Iraq and that a slight majority have concluded that the war was not worth it. With most Americans down on the war as the insurgents mount more deadly attacks and military experts in the United States predict this conflict may last for five to 30 years, is Bush consciously not referring directly to the soldiers and, especially, the fallen Americans? Or has he just forgotten to do so when he has appeared in public?
For most of the night, the dinner yielded less disturbing moments. At a pre-dinner reception hosted by Newsweek, I and my colleague Julian Borger of the British Guardian chatted with Dennis Hopper and his wife, Victoria . Months ago, Hopper, a Bush-backer (from Easy Rider to easy street?), had been invited to participate in Bush's inaugural festivities. Then he was dis-invited. Why? The widespread assumption was that the family-values crowd had bitched about Hopper's involvement because they supposedly were not fans of his various on-screen celebrations of perversity. Dennis and Victoria told us they were not able at the time to get an explanation from the inauguration's organizers, but they noted that the head of the Creative Coalition, a group of politically-minded Hollywood stars, was told by Karl Rove that Hopper had been nixed because Victoria is a Democratic Party activist. I wonder if Rove knows that Cheney's daughter is gay?
Borger and I pressed on and nearly found ourselves asphyxiated in a scrum caused by Richard Gere, the celeb who always had the largest crowd about him. We managed to make it to the main ballroom and caught sight of Bill Gertz, a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, chuckling with Donald Rumsfeld. About what? Who knows? Most folks were trying to spot movie stars. I headed straight toward Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee. Why, I asked ever-so politely, had his committee not yet completed the so-called Phase II report that is supposed to examine how the Bush White House used--or abused--the intelligence on WMDs. Roberts claimed he wanted to finish the report and get the damn thing off his back. But, he explained, the problem was that he had decided that the committee should look at the prewar statements of a variety of public officials--meaning Democratic members of Congress--and the Democrats now were not so hot to proceed. In other words, Roberts had told the Dems, You want to look at what Bush, Cheney, Rice and the rest said about WMDs before the war? Fine, let's go over 46 statements from prominent Democrats--like Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edwards, Bill Clinton, and so on--who also had said there was a WMD threat from Iraq. Very clever, Mr. Chairman. But none of these folks launched an invasion. And it was not their responsibility to ascertain that the intelligence was sound and that it was being represented accurately to the public. And, Roberts went on, he now is overwhelmed with ensuring there's good intelligence on WMDs in North Korea and Iran and overseeing the ongoing reform of the intelligence community's structure. Do we really want to take time and energy away from these crucial tasks, he asked, to go over what was said three years ago? Still, he said, "I'd like to get this done." And I'd like to see Bush milk a horse.
Elsewhere on the floor of the Washington Hilton's grand ballroom, Democrats were feeling pretty giddy due because Bush's poll numbers are lousy and his recent press conference seemingly caused his failing Social Security crusade even more problems. "I wish the election was tomorrow!" exclaimed Representative Rahm Emmanuel, who runs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Former Democratic Party head Terry McAullife declared, "I almost wish I was still chairman."
I found my table and discovered I was siting about ten feet away from deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, the Iran-contra criminal (pardoned by Bush I) whom George W. Bush had rehabilitated. This past week, I had written for a book proposal a sample chapter in which Abrams plays a special role. (When Abrams worked for the Reagan administration he denied that El Salvador troops trained and equipped by the United States had massacred 800 peasants, mainly women and children. But the massacre had happened. Years later, this fellow who had tried to cover up the existence of one of the most tragic human rights atrocities in the Western Hemisphere in recent decades was given a job on the National Security Council by George W. Bush and placed in charge of coordinating human rights policy.) Borger encouraged me to go talk to Abrams. I really had no questions for him, I said. In retrospect, I realize I should have approached Abrams and said, "How would you feel if your family was slaughtered by soldiers and then two governments denied it ever happened?" But I was perhaps distracted by all the hubbub caused by the latest American Idol celebrity, who was sitting several tables in front of us.
After the dinner, while heading out the hotel, I spotted Paul Wolfowitz. He was walking very quickly and holding a copy of the conservative National Review underneath an arm. The magazine had been opened to a page bearing a story headlined "What Went Right" and written by Rich Lowry, whom I occasionally debate on college campuses. The piece begins, "It is time to say it unequivocally: We are winning in Iraq." Since many military experts note the insurgency could go on for many more years--maybe decades--this may be a slightly premature pronouncement. And ultimately meaningless. A Japanese magazine after Pearl Harbor could have declared, "We are winning." The first quotes Lowry offer are not persuasive. An unnamed "top officer in Iraq" says, "It's not over." (Wow, get this person to the Army War College right away.) And an unnamed administration officials says, "I give us a B minus." I sure hope Wolfowitz is able to get more insightful views than these.
Next stop was the only after-party to speak of: the Bloomberg reception. This is always the hot ticket. The party used to be hosted by Vanity Fair, but the VFers grew tired of the bother. Bloomberg rushed in. The bash was two blocks from the hotel. Still, there was limo gridlock between the two spots. After all, there was a drizzle underway. But the Bloombergers had thought of everything. They had stationed young men with bags of umbrellas along the route to the party. There was no need for anyone to show up moist.
I trodded the wet sidewalks of Washington with Michael Isikoff, Maureen Dowd and Jill Abramson of The New York Times. The line was forever long when we arrived, and there was more security than at Washington National airport. I quickly sussed out that I would not get in because my contact person was not working the door as I had been told she would be. (Don't ask how a proper invitation did not make it to me.) But--in the nick of time--there was Arianna Huffington. She whisked me into her entourage. I was in--and, in a way, her date for the evening. Which was fine by me. As we moved through the overcrowded party (can't they keep out gatecrashers?), she greeted practically everyone by asking, "You will be blogging for me?" Wesley Clark. John Podesta. Isikoff. We chatted with Al Franken and Bill Maher. Franken discussed his preparations to run for the Senate from Minnesota in 2008. We then spied Matt Drudge. The new HuffingtonPost.com group-blog has erroneously been described as competition to Drudge's site, but we all talked amicably. Drudge told me that he had recently linked to my blog, after having heard me bash John Bolton on all-night BBC radio in London. And in a rare moment of quiet conversation, Huffington asked me what I would ask David Geffen and Quincy Jones to blog about. Both have agreed to be part of her mega-blog. I'm not going to reveal my suggestions. I want it to be a surprise. The site launches on May 9.
It was at the Bloomberg party that I had my favorite Hollywood moment. As Huffington and I entered the soiree, Ian McShane, the star of HBO's gritty and explicit Western, Deadwood, was leaving. Huffington knows him, of course. (No Rolodex--or Blackberry--can hold all her connections!) They talked. Then I introduced myself to him and remarked that I was a big fan and that Deadwood is a "great fuckin' show." I then realized he probably had heard this a million times, for one signature element of the show is its abundant flow of curse words, especially "fuckin'" and "cocksucker." Whoops, I said. He quickly ended my embarrassment by warmly noting he was familiar with my writings and was delighted to meet me. What a gent. Later, as I thought about this encounter, I recalled that in a recent episode of Deadwood one grizzled no-good ruffian was caught masturbating himself alongside a horse. I wondered if a future episode might feature someone actually milking a stallion.
IT REMAINS RELEVANT, ALAS. SO DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! An UPDATED and EXPANDED EDITION is AVAILABLE in PAPERBACK. The Washington Post says, "This is a fierce polemic, but it is based on an immense amount of research.... [I]t does present a serious case for the president's partisans to answer.... Readers can hardly avoid drawing...troubling conclusions from Corn's painstaking indictment." The Los Angeles Times says, "David Corn's The Lies of George W. Bush is as hard-hitting an attack as has been leveled against the current president. He compares what Bush said with the known facts of a given situation and ends up making a persuasive case." The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations.... Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." And GEORGE W. BUSH SAYS, "I'd like to tell you I've read [ The Lies of George W. Bush], but that'd be a lie."
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