My Dinner With Clinton

With the most combustible confluence of events ever to befall a new president, not once, ever, did anyone say to me, "Go easy. Don't burn". No one told me what to say or not say.
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January 19, 2007 -- Las Vegas Review-Journal: Host Of This Year's WH Correspondents Dinner Claiming He Was Told To Go Easy On Bush...

Head Of WH Correspondents Assoc: "We Didn't Say Go Easy, We Said "'Singe, Don't Burn'"...

And therein lies the difference in character of administrations. Whatever you think of this White House, you can now add "weenies" to the list. They control the press (you know what Al Jazeera means in English? Fox News), the message, the congress (until now, hopefully), the legal system (Guantanamo, military tribunals, whom lawyers can and cannot defend), the "artistic interpretation" of the Constitution (what is it, Swan Lake?) the bills passed by congress (illegal signing statements, or singeing statements, hey, maybe that's why they said singe), appointments (John Bolton, reactionary right wing judges, all appointed by executive decree while congress was in recess), the limiting of young girls' lives and opportunity (gutting Title IX by executive decree, no access to birth control, abstinence only teaching that doesn't work), etc. etc. But now they've just gone too far!!! Telling a comedian what he can and cannot say?

This is the biggest bunch of cowards to come down the pike since that guy dressed as a woman and got into one of the lifeboats as the Titanic was sinking. You sure can tell none of these White House big shots ever served in the military; afraid of a comedian? And one on social security at that? (Which explains why they would be afraid of him. Maybe they fear he's going to ask Bush to explain the "health care plans" debacle for seniors, or why the government won't negotiate price with drug companies).

When Bill Clinton was elected president, I was the first comedian chosen to entertain at the White House Press Correspondents' Dinner. It was May, 1993, one hundred days into his first term, and there was enough kindling in those three months to burn down Washington. Janet Reno had just blown the hostage situation in Waco, Texas, and 74 members of the Branch Davidians, men, women, and children, were dead. The Tailhook scandal had just come to light; U.S. Navy pilots were accused of drunken sexual abuse of their female comrades, and civilians, at their Las Vegas convention. Clinton had announced that to bring down the deficit he was, yes, raising taxes. The Republican congress was already dead set against any progress on his watch; he got no cooperation on his proposed health care, budget, or economic policy reforms.


These were raw, sensitive, explosive issues. There was a private cocktail party before the dinner. I thought that meant about a thousand people stuffed into a room, so I went down late. I walked into the room. It was a dozen people. Bill Clinton and a handful of young guys... and me. The president saw me. "Elayne's here! Get Jim. You have to see this!! This guy does the greatest Ross Perot!!" And over came Jim, and did his Ross Perot, and it was perfect, and we all laughed a lot. And we told jokes. And laughed some more. Hillary came in from giving a graduation speech in Washington. She was in a long gold gown, with long gold hair swept up in an intricate, beautiful do. In came Al Gore and Tipper. We talked, we laughed. The head of the White House Press Association entered, told us how to line up to enter and go to the dais where we would all be eating dinner before the speeches started. (I ate dinner with them first. On the dais. It was Bill, Hillary, Al Gore, Tipper, and me. I felt like the SAT sample question. What does not belong at this table?)

So here's my point. With the most combustible confluence of events ever to befall a new president, not once, ever, did anyone say to me, "Go easy. Don't burn". No one told me what to say or not say. In all that pre-dinner opportunity for someone to attempt to censor me, it never came up.

And I did mention all of it onstage, because that's the job. And Clinton laughed, and winced, and laughed. And the audience laughed, and booed, and laughed, and booed. And the press lambasted me the next day, because that seems to be part of the tradition. No matter who the comedian is that year, the Washington press deems her/him inappropriate, out of line, whatever.

Rich Little doesn't have to burn George W. Bush. He'll burn all right.

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