WASHINGTON — Hollywood and Washington went on a romantic date Saturday night in the basement ballroom of the Washington Hilton, where more than 2,000 politicians, celebrities, journalists and hangers-on dined on crabmeat terrine and chocolate truffles and belly-laughed at remarks delivered by President Barack Obama during the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.
“My fellow Americans, we gather during a historic anniversary,” Obama said during his after-dinner speech, seeming to allude to the killing of Osama bin Laden. “Last year at this time — in fact, on this very weekend — we finally delivered justice to one of the world’s most notorious individuals.” At which point a photo of an orange-faced Donald Trump — who spent much of last spring questioning Obama’s citizenship — flashed on giant screens in the ballroom.
The seating arrangements created a muddled tableau of elites from different industries. Kate Hudson was next to former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Sofia Vergara of “Modern Family” and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R, cracked each other up and posed for photos together. When the dessert course arrived, Vergara ate half her mousse. Christie cleaned his plate.
The dinner is perhaps the only venue on the planet where erstwhile presidential candidate Rick Santorum would snap a photo of eternally addled starlet Lindsay Lohan. Which he did. Lohan, whose date appeared to be her attorney, sat at Fox News’s table with Kim Kardashian, who’s famous because the media keeps her famous.
“I have the nuclear codes,” Obama said in a voice-over that lampooned his hot-mike moment with Russian Prmie Minister Dmitri Medvedev this month. “What am doing telling knock-knock jokes to Kim Kardashian?”
The yearly dinner is an opportunity for elected officials to momentarily ignore the business of the people, and for the 1 percent to use mid-level California chardonnay to cleanse their palate of the aggravations of the real world: the deteriorating situation in Syria, for example, and the slowing of both U.S. economic growth and the country’s personal saving rate, which declined for the sixth straight quarter to 3.9 percent.
But all was bubbly at the Hilton, and pundits and politicians seemed to drop their adversarial role-playing — an act that keeps them on air or in office — in favor of buddy-buddiness. The Gingriches were mobbed by well-wishers at a pre-dinner reception hosted by this very newspaper.
“It’s fun,” Newt said of the event. “It’s our first night out” since reports that he was suspending his presidential campaign.
“It’s date night,” wife Callista clarified.
“Newt, there’s still time, man!” Obama yelled to Gingrich during his speech, encouraging him to keep his campaign running.
Since last year’s dinner, Obama has burnished his credentials as an entertainer in chief. He slow-jammed the news on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” He sang Al Green at the Apollo Theater. Obama is counting on Hollywood to funnel money into his re-election campaign. (“I’m going to need you,” Obama told a crowd of 1,000 Tinseltowners at a $38,500-a-plate dinner at the Los Angeles home of a soap-opera producer in February. “You’re going to carry this thing like you did in 2008.”)
“He could probably be a comedian himself if he wanted to,” the night’s featured funnyman, Jimmy Kimmel, said on C-SPAN earlier in the day.
The White House Correspondents’ Association was founded in 1914, and the dinner became an annual tradition in 1920. Calvin Coolidge was the first president to attend, in 1924, and the dinner finally admitted women, at the prodding of Helen Thomas, in 1962. Its official function is to honor journalists and award scholarships, though the glitz outshines the recipients. Last year, Obama delivered his well-received speech after approving the mission to kill bin Laden (but before the rest of the world knew about it).
This year, the man who planned that mission, Vice Adm. William McRaven, was seated unperturbed at a table, his medals mounted on his tuxedo jacket, as Kardashian, Lohan and George Clooney were mobbed across the room.