Bush pokes fun at successors over dinner
Two years ago he had to sit by, smiling uncomfortably, as the comedian Stephen Colbert ripped apart his record and his administration, but at his final White House correspondents' dinner George Bush had the last laugh.
The annual gala, when Washington's power elite mingle with the press corps and a smattering of celebrity guests, was back to type as an insider love-fest this weekend, and the President himself indulged in a little light ribbing of his potential successors.
As the Democrat candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continued to slug it out on the campaign trail, Mr Bush teased them over their most recent gaffes and scandals. "Hillary Clinton couldn't get in because of sniper fire and Senator Obama's at church," he said, referring to Mrs Clinton's claim to have arrived in Bosnia under fire and Mr Obama's difficulties over the anti-American views of his pastor, the Rev Jeremiah Wright. As for the Republican candidate John McCain, a long-time rival, who was also not in attendance, Mr Bush said: "He probably wanted to distance himself from me."
The President and the White House press corps have paid annual homage to each other every year since Calvin Coolidge attended in 1924. But these days the evening is shown live on television, and attracts a glamorous roll-call of celebrities as well as journalists and politicians. Among those attending were Salman Rushdie, the blogger Perez Hilton (who caused a stir by eschewing a tuxedo), and Will.i.am, the rapper who created the "Yes We Can" video that swept the internet and boosted support for Barack Obama. Hollywood was represented by Ben Affleck and Pamela Anderson.
"Pamela Anderson and Mitt Romney in one room?" Mr Bush marvelled. "Isn't that a sign of the apocalypse?"
More than 2,000 guests crammed into the Washington Hilton were treated to a dinner of Berber-spiced petite filet paired with Tunisian tabil-seared salmon, with a spring salad and chocolate mousse, washed down with Blackstone merlot.
Mr Bush declared himself "a little wistful" that this would be his final dinner as host, and he ended the evening conducting the US Marine band, the President's in-house musicians, in a medley of patriotic marches.
It was a far cry from the uncomfortable silences that had greeted Colbert's vicious roasting of the President two years ago, which became an internet sensation and turned the comedian into the nation's foremost political satirist. In his guise as a clueless right-wing TV talk-show host, Colbert heaped mock praise on the President ("I agree that government that governs best is the government that governs least – and by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq") and attacked the press corps over its failure to hold Mr Bush to account ("Tax cuts, weapons of mass destruction, global warming, we Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out").
By contrast, the jokes of Scottish-born Craig Ferguson, the host of CBS's The Late Late Show, were little more than a light tickling, but he admitted to being nervous since so many comics bomb at the event. "That makes me just another foreigner taking jobs Americans don't want," he said.
The presenter, who became a US citizen earlier this year, mocked George Bush's penchant for long breaks at his Texas ranch, and asked what he might do when he leaves the White House. "You could look for a job with more vacation time," he said.
And he joked that Vice-President Dick Cheney, was already preparing to move out of the White House. "It takes longer than you think to pack up an entire dungeon."