Springfield Journal Register

March 12, 2006

Obama carries a tune
Shows talents at Gridiron Dinner


By DORI MEINERT
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Sen. Barack Obama poked fun at himself and his recent tiff with Sen. John McCain in a musical comedy routine delivered to 600 journalists, lawmakers, Cabinet secretaries and President Bush at the annual Gridiron Club dinner Saturday night.

The audience roared when the Illinois senator, who was the featured Democratic speaker, sang of being upbraided by the Arizona Republican, who accused him of partisan posturing on ethics reform.

To the tune of "If I Only Had a Brain" from the Wizard of Oz, Obama crooned:

"I would be a great uniter,

Making ethics rules much tighter,

If I only had McCain ... "

Of being tapped as the Democrats' leader on ethics reform, Obama said: "It's a little like being the Kryptonite confection at a Superman convention. How did I know it was a freshman hazing?"

It was the Gridiron's 121st annual dinner, a spectacle that occurs every spring. That's when members of the Gridiron Club, which is limited to 65 of Washington's top journalists, don silly costumes and entertain a VIP audience with musical satire. Unlike most of the journalists who sang, Obama can actually carry a tune.

The Republican speech was given by Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney. By tradition, the president gives the closing remarks. The tough crowd has been known to make or break public officials' future ambitions.

Earlier, Obama insisted he wasn't nervous.

"Everybody has such good humor about it and most importantly, it's all off the record. So no scathing reviews will come out of it," Obama said.

While it was Obama's first time to sing in public, he has displayed his comedic talent before. Soon after he was elected, Obama made an appearance on the David Letterman show and last fall he appeared on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," which pokes fun at the news of the day.

And, it was at Gridiron's winter dinner in December 2004, just after he was elected, where he delivered the oft-repeated line, "I'm so overexposed that I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse."

In his speech Saturday, he also thanked the vice president. "For years, we Democrats have succeeded in doing little more than shooting ourselves in the foot. You've taught us a valuable lesson - aim higher."

And he took a jab at President Bush's policy on domestic surveilance in the name of national security.

"I have a suggestion on this regard, Mr. President. You can spy on the Weather Channel and find out when the big storms are coming."

However, Obama also was the target of journalists' satire.

Spoofing Obama's concerted efforts his first year in the Senate to maintain a middle ground on issues, the costumed club members sang to the tune of "The Carioca," from a 1933 Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie:

"I have to stay inside my bubble

With Richard Lugar - out of trouble

Because if I avoid the thicket

I'll make the ticket

And enjoy."

Gridiron members also tweaked Obama for his run-in with McCain with the line: "Only a fool would fight a hero."

Earlier in the week, those familiar with the risky business of political humor predicted Obama would do well. After all, he launched his national political stardom with his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, describing himself as "a skinny kid with a funny name," said Liz Carpenter, who headed the first White House humor group for President Johnson and is writing a book on political humor.

At last year's dinner, Obama was sworn in only a few months when he was parodied on stage by Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, who dressed in a gold suit with angel wings, urged the Democratic Party to "go with a guy who walks on water."

Dori Meinert can be reached at (202) 737-7686 or dori.meinert@copleydc.com.