- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

It would take more than a war on terrorism, anthrax and the Enron scandal to get members of the Gridiron Club to mend their irreverent ways.
The 117th annual gala, Washington's satirical salute to itself and the Fourth Estate, blended melancholy moments with hilarity at the Capital Hilton Saturday night.
President George W. Bush proved an affable comic presence during his short remarks after initially grounding the evening with a sobering request.
He asked each Gridiron member to write a letter to the unborn son of Wall Street Journal's South Asia bureau chief Daniel Pearl. Mr. Pearl was kidnapped and slain by Islamic extremists. Mr. Bush said he would write such a letter himself.
"Someday you'll help a little boy understand his father a little better and what a great gift that would be," he said.
Mr. Bush also joined in the evening's traditionally lighthearted theme, jesting of his changed image over the last six, tumultuous months.
"A year ago, Dick Cheney was running the country," Mr. Bush cracked. "Today, he lives out of a little suitcase."
The president also said he had asked Mr. Cheney's wife, Lynne, if her husband's disappearances for national security purposes had "caused any marital strains, if you know what I mean. But Lynne said, 'He's gone?'"
Later, after a skit by journalists on the vice president spending so much of his time in an undisclosed location since the September 11 attacks, the Cheneys suddenly appeared onstage dancing to the tune of "Hernando's Hideway, " with the vice president wearing a top hat and his wife clenching a rose between her teeth.
As Gridiron singers belted out their lyrics ("There is a dark, secluded place. A veep can sleep without a trace. And no one ever sees his face Dick Cheney's hideway"), the vice presidential couple took a few exaggerated steps then exited, with Mr. Cheney giving a big leg kick as his wife tossed the rose high into the audience.
Other high-ranking administration officials had their turn in the spotlight as well.
Christine Todd Whitman fired away with some rather barbed bits, to mixed results. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency reported that two years ago she had heard she was on the "short list" for a vice presidential slot.
"It turned out to be a short list of Republicans who care about the environment," she said to a mixture of guffaws and groans.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, in his Gridiron debut, poked fun at his inability to pass so much as a salt shaker to the president during a recent dinner.
"I wanted to, but I couldn't," Mr. Daschle said. "I can't get myself to pass anything."
Gridiron dinners live and die by their skits, and this year's array of song-and-dance vignettes proved as cutting as the cutups who delivered them.
Venerable White House reporter Helen Thomas, said to have terrorized presidents since the days of Camelot, emerged from a black burka to croakingly serenade the president with "Hello Dubya," to the tune of "Hello, Dolly."
The prisoners from Afghanistan held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, weren't spared the Gridiron sizzle, "Cabaret" style.
"Why not try sitting in an 8-by-8 room? We'll let you out to pray, Welcome to Gitmo Bay, old chum, Welcome to the Camp X-ray."
A pair of dancing pretzels, life-sized camel costumes and an ersatz Rep. John Dingell, the veteran Democrat from Michigan recently stripped down by airport security, were among the sight gags on display for the delectation of VIP pundits and pols in attendance, including Gridiron President and Hearst newspapers columnist Marianne Means, Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, humorist Art Buchwald, ABC News' Sam Donaldson, NBC News' Tim Russert, Massachusetts Gov. Jane Swift, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who got to hear a musical tribute to his "Favorite Things": "Secret tribunals and racial profiling, intimate things that I find so beguiling, listening in when your telephone rings, these are a few of my favorite things."
At a post-dinner reception at the Hilton, satirist Mark Russell gave the white-tie affair high marks for humor.
"Nobody bombed," Mr. Russell said, before heaping on praise for Mr. Daschle.
"They refer to the Gridiron as the invisible primary," he said, referring to the buzz surrounding a potential presidential run by the Senate majority leader. "Daschle won it."
Mr. Daschle, giddy as a string of well-wishers gave him props for his performance, said he wasn't nervous about trying his hand at comedy.
"You practice a few times and you get your confidence up enough," Mr. Daschle said.
Rep. Jennifer Dunn, a Republican from Washington state, said politicians better have thick skins if they want to survive the Gridiron.
"It's always edgy," she said. "If you're not resilient, if you don't have a sense of humor, you're not going to make it as a politician. That's what it's all about."
Even such Gridiron newcomers as "Wheel of Fortune" host Pat Sajak were quick to pick up on the Gridiron's unique vibe.
More impressive, Mr. Sajak said, is what the event said about the freedoms we often take for granted.
"There are few places in the world where you can do shows like this," he said.
Based in part on wire service reports.



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