- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

Welcome to the 120th annual Gridiron Club Dinner, where hambone journalists get to do three hours of vaudeville skits, supposedly “to singe but never burn” the high-level government officials they cover.

The annual white-tie roast at the Capital Hilton is a must-attend event for the president of the United States (every president since Grover Cleveland has shown up) and his spouse, who are forced to endure endless barbs while appearing to be entertained. Some do it better than others. Former first lady Nancy Reagan famously spoofed her reputation as a clotheshorse when she wowed the Gridiron years ago with her rendition of “Second Hand Rose.” Overnight, Mrs. Reagan’s image was transformed from a spoiled, couture-clad harpie into, well, a good sport.

While the Gridiron traditionally sets the high bar for so-called Washington “roasts,” Saturday night’s event never came close to that telling moment — although we are here to report the highlights nonetheless. (Note to next year’s attendees: bring a pillow and blankie. Men might consider toting a shaving kit for a midnight touch up, although the razor might not get through security.)

In the spirit of award shows, we single out the following:

Best Dressed:Secretary of StateCondoleeza Rice, swathed in a splendid red silk Oscar de la Renta ball gown and matching wrap.

Best Shoes:New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd’s killer Gucci bondage heels.

Best Speech: George W. Bush, who finally took the mike and greeted the drowsy crowd with a deadpan “Good morning,” then kept it short and pithy.

On Social Security: “We have to fix it or [Donald] Rumsfeld may never retire.”

Mr. Bush also noted that his predecessor, Bill Clinton, was recuperating from surgery, adding that, “when he woke up he was surrounded by loved ones” — his wife, his daughter and … my dad.” (Former presidents Bush and Clinton, once bitter rivals, have reportedly hit it off since they joined up to raise funds for tsunami victims.)

Best Speech (Runner-up): New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who compared the Bush administration’s foreign policy to the NCAA basketball tournament. “Sixty-four teams start and they’re whittled down to just one — kind of reminds me what we’ve done with our allies.”

Best Performance by a Supporting Spouse: Laura Bush, in mother-of-the-bride beaded blue, smiling serenely while her husband often squirmed in his seat.

Best Hair:D.C. Sports Commission head Mark Tuohey’swhite curls. The man who brought baseball back to Washington handed out Nationals’ baseball caps to table matesColin Powell and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Worst Hair:ABC News’ Sam Donaldson in what appeared to be a fake fur Fendi baguette on his crown.

Best No Hair: White House adviser Karl Rove (whose impersonator warbled about the difficulty of turning Mr. Bush into a presidential contender: “He looked smug, he looked dim. How we gonna win with him?”

Best Performance by an Out-of-Towner: Pint-size Mort Zuckerman. On his worst night, this guy can out-schmooze the best politician.

Best Performance by an Ink-Stained Wretch: ClarencePage of the Chicago Tribune, who brought down the house imitating freshman Democratic Sen. Barack Obamain a gold lame jumpsuit and halo. Mr. Obama, truly a rock star, laughed harder than anyone in the room but later felt obliged to claim he didn’t own any gold lame.

Most Bored: Vice President Dick Cheney, looking like he would rather be back in his bunker watching reruns of “Home Improvement.”

Least Bored: Former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, who sat in the front row and laughed at everything.

Best Song: Veteran columnist Helen Thomas as Teresa Heinz Kerry, singing to the tune of “Thank Heaven, For Little Girls”: “Thank heaven, he lost the race/Now I can tell the press just how and where to go/and I’m allowed my wine and escargots.”

Worst Song:Oh, where to begin? How many words rhyme with Dub-ya?

Best Accessory: Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, sporting a black eye.

Worst Accessory: Gridiron geezer medals that look like party favors from Chuck E Cheese.

All in all, a magical night: the traditional white-tie-and-tails attire; jokes about journalists on steroids; Democratic congressional leaders depicted in prison stripes trying to escape from the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; flowing wine, Chilean Sea Bass with turnip potato gratin, tender filet mignon and Gridiron petits fours; a Hillary Rodham Clinton impersonator singing a song about turning “those red states blue;” rousing marches from the U.S. Marine Corps Band. A night where grown men and women poke fun at one another and everyone goes home feeling a little smarter, a little more secure within the Washington whirlwind of power and prestige.

Even if you did have to make a fool of yourself by wearing a cowboy costume onstage.

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