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Sunday, March 9, 2008

Bush serenades Washington journalists; Gives Helen a kiss!

This is the first of all press reports, and a full Swamp there's-got-to-be-a-morning-after account from the supposedly "off-the-record," rollicking annual dinner of the Gridiron Club - President George W. Bush's last hurrah - in which the president, donning a tan cowboy hat with white-tie tuxedo, serenaded the full establishment press and governmental hierarchy of Washington on Saturday night with an off-tune but spot-on Texas-waltz rendition of "The Brown, Brown Grass of Home."

"Yes, you're all going to miss me, the way you used to quiz me," Bush sang, "but soon I'll touch the brown, brown grass of home."

Not only the president, but also most of his Cabinet and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff turned out for a dinner that ran well over four hours and featured Bush's fellow Texan, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, predicting this is going to be a great year for the Republicans, and why wouldn't it be - they "started outreach many, many months ago, in the airport men's room."

Barack Obama was not here - Gridiron President Carl Leubsdorf joked that he was too busy "memorizing Gov. Deval Patrick's inaugural address." But Sen. John Kerry and wife Teresa were. Bush sat at the head table, and Karl Rove, private citizen, sat near the stage on the other side of the hall.

They made a lot of fun of the presidential campaign underway.

"The race today features a senator from New York who was born in Illinois," said newswoman Judy Woodruff, introducing the star guests filling a ballroom of Washington's Renaissance Hotel, "and a senator from Illinois who was born in a manger."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry was introduced, and so was Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.

"Each would bring important balance to a McCain ticket," said Al Hunt, Woodruff's husband. "They are Republicans."

Karl Rove, the only guy in the room who was introduced without any explainer for who he is or what his title is or was, quietly passed out cigarette lighters for his big moment tonight - but the lighters remained in the pockets of friends for the "architect's" torch song..

After a spirited introduction in the finest tradition of John Philip Sousa by the Marine Band's best and several "ringer" singers with military rank, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer addressed the hall.

"I'm Dick Gephardt without the charisma," Hoyer said.

Standing in for Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), hospitalized with the flu., Hoyer said Hunt and Woodruff had begged and pleaded with him to stand in.

"If things don't go well tonight," he said, "don't blame me, blame the author of my speech, Deval Patrick."

Hoyer hailed the tax rebate checks that the government promises in May.

"We're gonna send people $600 checks," he said, "which is higher than Barack's maximum donation, and lower than Hillary's minimum."

And where are we gonna get the money?


Superdelegates like him are like other people, he insisted.

"Except we can fly and steal, and subvert the will of the people."

Hoyer closed with a joke about one campaign ad he never wants to hear:

"It's 3 am, there's a phone ringing in the White House. There's a world crisis. But nobody can answer it, cause they are stuck at the Gridiron Dinner."

This was largely an amateur event, but the military singer portraying McCain was a true ringer.
"Born in the Fourth Estate,'' he sang. "Behold the monster you created."

Then came one of several show-stoppers, a shimmying female Marine ringer singing:

"The only one who could ever reach me was a Huckabee preacher man."

Or the big fat imitator of Gov. Perry of Texas worrying about his reelection and singing, "Don't you come home Kay Bailey."

"It's hard to be a Republican, when W's name is mud,'' sang a black-suited singer. "God save the GOP."

"We do a similar thing in Texas, but we use livestock, and the winners get belt buckles," said Sen. Hutchinson, (R-Tex.) "The president and I have a lot in common. We're both from Texas. We both were cheerleaders, and we both woke up in sorority houses."

"The French have five-week vacations, and the president has a new trophy wife," she said. "Fred Thompson ran for president in the wrong country.

"They say the office of president ages a man," she said, with a word for McCain. "Why not elect the one who has a head start?"

"We are looking forward to the Republican convention," she said. "Why isn't it going to be great? We started outreach many, many months ago, in the airport men's room."

But the closer and show-stopper of all: The president of the United States, in his cowboy-hatted last appearance at a Gridiron Club dinner:

"W's final Gridiron," sang the chorus of press and ringers. "We had a singe-ing, that's our job."

Out walked the president wearing a cowboy hat and singing on stage in an off-tune rendition of the "Brown, Brown Grass of Home."

"Little Crawford looked the same, as I stepped down from that plane," the president sang. "And here came Barney, breath sweet as honey....

"I spend my days clearing brush. I clear my head of all the fuss you made of Harriet and Brownie."

Forget the monologues, this was Bush in white tie and tan cowboy hat singing, "Soon I'll touch the brown, brown grass of home.

"Yes, you're all going to miss me, the way you used to quiz me," Bush sang, "but soon I'll touch the brown, brown grass of home."

"You have just witnessed the final performance of Bush and the Busharoos," he said, introducing the military ringers who had backed him up.

"Let me give you a simple truth that I believe wholeheartedly - you can't have a true democracy without a free press," he said, ending on a serious note while admitting: "Sometimes you get on my nerves...

"Let me thank you for the work you do, and God bless."

In the club's traditional closing, with the singing of Auld Lang Syne by performers and audience alike, Bush grabbed hands and rocked with one of his harshest critics in the press, the veteran wire service reporter and columnist Helen Thomas -- and he gave her a kiss.

(Mark Silva)