Monday, April 27, 2015

The joke was that Obama wasn’t joking

Pool/Getty Images
Updated by Ezra Klein on April 27, 2015, 9:10 a.m. ET @ezraklein

The White House Correspondents' Dinner has become a strange event. It is, ostensibly, an evening when the president and the press can come together to share a few lighthearted laughs. But it's evolved into a recital of brutal truths — albeit one neither side ever really admits happened.

The joke of President Obama's performance on Saturday was that he wasn't joking. Everyone just had to pretend he was. Take this section, from the official White House transcript:
After the midterm elections, my advisors asked me, "Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?" And I said, "Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list.’" (Laughter and applause.) 
Take executive action on immigration? Bucket. (Laughter.) New climate regulations? Bucket. It’s the right thing to do. (Laughter and applause.)
The tip-off there is, "It's the right thing to do." That's not a joke. That's Obama's actual justification for the aggressive executive actions of his second term — "fuck it, it's the right thing to do." But the norms of politics are such that he typically has to frame his actions as routine, dull, even necessary. He has to search for precedent and downplay the consequences.

It's only on the evening of the White House Correspondents' Dinner when he can say what everyone already knows: his actions are huge, they are controversial, they push the norms of American politics, but fuck it, at a moment when American politics seems increasingly broken, Obama has decided to just go ahead and do what he thinks is right.

Then there was this line:
A few weeks ago, Dick Cheney says he thinks I’m the worst President of his lifetime. Which is interesting, because I think Dick Cheney is the worst President of my lifetime. (Laughter and applause.) It’s quite a coincidence.
It's funny, sure. But he's not kidding. It's just the thing Obama can't usually say. The humor is in the shock of him actually saying it.

(More here.)

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