- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

Politicians and print reporters, who normally spar only from afar, use the annual Gridiron Club dinner to do it up close and personal with humor as the weapon covering the bite in their words.

The tradition was more than fulfilled at Saturday’s 119th white-tie bash at the Capital Hilton attended by some 400 Washington headliners and byliners — everyone, it seems, but President Bush who chose this year to stay in Texas and let Vice President Dick Cheney take the heat instead.

The 60 self-selected club members, journalists all, don silly costumes and perform skits and hijinks that zap both Republicans and Democrats (“We are equal opportunity spoofers,” as Gridiron President Al Hunt put it); in turn, an invited representative of each party zings back at the folks who prey on them throughout the year.

This year’s event even had “Prince of Darkness” political columnist Robert Novak take the stage as former ambassador Joseph Wilson, satirizing his own controversial exposure naming Mr. Wilson’s wife as a CIA agent — material now in play now before federal investigators.

Sung to the popular maudlin tune “Once I Had a Secret Love,” Mr. Novak crooned “Novak had a secret source/Who lived within the great White House/So, he outed a girl spy the way princes of darkness do/Now John Ashcroft asks Bob who and how?/Could be headed for the old hoosegow.”

Potshots were taken at the Democratic presidential contenders, including Howard Dean (the only one who showed up) plus Al Gore, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, Tom DeLay, Paul Wolfowitz, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (who was portrayed as Queen Elizabeth I, complete with crown and ruffled collar).

Mrs. Clinton, who had a touch of laryngitis, soon had the opportunity to return fire with well-prepared remarks, mostly skewering the Bush administration.

When her husband was in office, she said, he “moved millions from welfare to work;” but now “we’ve made that journey round trip.”

Mrs. Clinton also got laughs when she played on her own famously missing Whitewater documents to tease the absent president about his lost National Guard records. “Now look, we all misplace things from time to time. Have you tried looking in the upstairs cabinet?

Mr. Cheney, she said, really does believe in the “separation of the three powers: Kellogg, Brown and Root.”

Mrs. Clinton’s speech was “beyond my expectations,” said Gerald terHorst of Alexandria, former press secretary for President Ford and a retired Detroit News journalist. “She was on the mark. She said enough … and said it in way that made the audience think about this year’s election.”

Republicans got their chance to rib the opposition when former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani took the mike and began to hoarsely rant like a cigar-smoking mafioso.

“What are you friggin’ laughing about? You think it’s funny?” he growled before thanking “Doug” Hunt “for organizing the meeting tonight.”

Mr. Giuliani took great pleasure tweaking Mrs. Clinton’s presidential ambitions by pointing out that “when all is said and done,” they both would be voting for President Bush in November — along with Terry McAuliffe “and possibly even Bill Clinton, too.” Later, he got laughs by suggesting there were no longer any guarantees of serving out a full term: “The only person guaranteed to have a four-year term is Martha Stewart.”

Mr. Cheney made light of his own health problems when he delivered the final speech after the club’s traditional toast to the president.

“At one point during your skits, I had a little scare. had a tightness in my chest,” the famously taciturn vice president said. “Then I realized it’s called laughing.”

After assuring the crowd that he would be on the Republican ticket again, because “the CIA told me so,” Mr. Cheney got in few licks on the Democrats, too.

“I always feel a genuine bond whenever I see Sen. Clinton. She’s the only one at the center of more conspiracy theories than I am,” he said after noting his role as “a dark insidious force pushing Bush toward war and confrontation.”

The absence of Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, didn’t pass unnoticed, either.

“I’m so sorry Sen. Kerry couldn’t be here, but he had a fund-raising dinner … with Teresa,” Mr. Cheney cracked.

Guests seem reassured by the show’s motto: “Singe, but never burn” (although British Ambassador Sir David Manning was definitely not amused by the “Yankee Poodle Dandy” skit dedicated to his boss, Tony Blair).

The humor relies heavily on outlandish costumes — Ralph Nader as a skunk at the Democrats’ garden party; vegetarian presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich as a giant carrot; Mr. Rove as Oz’s Scarecrow, singing about his boss, “If he only had MY brain.”

Songs included a lesbian couple singing “Get us to the church on time” to the tune of “YMCA” and a Sen. Edward Kennedy impersonator lamenting the passage of the GOP’s Medicare bill: “We were done in by the A-A-R-P.” In one of many references to Iraq, Saddam Hussein popped out of his hiding place to sing not “Under the Boardwalk” but “Under the floormat, with all the fleas, yeah. But now a cot in a prison is where I’ll be.”

The show’s ending, however, was a more somber salute to the men and women serving in Afghanistan and Iraq: a trio of singers (two men and a woman) in camouflage singing “Dreaming on a jet plane/that’s going to take us home again.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports and “secret” sources.

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