Last Saturday night, President Obama delivered his annual humorous speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Under the cover of humor, he revealed more about what he’s really thinking than he does in most of his serious speeches.
And what the president is thinking these days is that he’s angry. As usual, President Obama delivered a speech that was carefully prepared by his team, which he no doubt actively helped write.
As usual, the president kept some of his sharpest barbs for himself and the caricature that his opponents paint of him. For example, he noted that he was having trouble fulfilling his demanding duties while still taking the time to pray five times a day. Further highlighting certain people’s criticism of him for being distant and condescending, he concluded, tit for tat, that these people are really dumb and that’s why he doesn't want to see them.
He didn't even spare his friends; he made fun of his genial Vice President Joe Biden and made allusion to Hillary Clinton, a friend who “just a few weeks ago ... was making millions of dollars a year. And she’s now living out of a van in Iowa.”
Obama had several sarcastic remarks in store to criticize the role money plays in electoral campaigns, making fun of — among others — how Republican candidates must win over multimillionaires Charles and David Koch to be able to count on their financial support. “The Koch brothers think they need to spend a billion dollars to get folks to like one of these people. It's got to hurt their feelings a little bit.”
The highlight of the speech, however, is the part where he is accompanied by an “anger translator” who explodes alongside a calm and poised Obama, saying out loud what the president seems to be thinking inwardly. For example, this character named Luther talked about the media. “We can count on Fox News to terrify old white people with some nonsense!” Luther said, adding, “Oh, and CNN, thank you so much for the wall-to-wall Ebola coverage. For two whole weeks, we were one step away from ‘The Walking Dead.’”
After several comments of the same ilk, it was Obama himself who got angry while talking about opposition to his initiatives on climate change and the deniers who dominate the debate in the Republican opposition camp. “I mean, look at what’s happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it’s a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day, and instead of doing anything about it, we’ve got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate!” Obama said. (And that’s not a joke – it really happened!)
Then he added, getting carried away in a tirade that seemed almost more authentic than acted, “It is crazy! What about our kids? What kind of stupid, shortsighted, irresponsible bull –” It is then that his anger translator stops him in the middle of a word that is banned from the airwaves and turns into a moderator as he tries to return the president to his usual composure.
The correspondents’ dinner is the only occasion when the president can go so far in revealing his actual thoughts under the cover of humor. On many issues, Barack Obama can deal with the obstructionism of his opponents, but when it comes to climate change, he revealed Saturday evening how exasperated he is by Republicans’ refusal to make the least concession to scientific consensus, which inevitably influences a good portion of American public opinion — and even, we could add, Canadian opinion. For a president to come so close to pronouncing a word that is usually bleeped out on American television, he must be really fed up.
If you have a few minutes and want a good laugh, it’s worth listening to, or re-listening to. But the speech is also worth reading to understand that on certain issues that are close to his heart, Obama will not hesitate to act forcefully from now until the end of his term, sometimes testing the limits of the powers of the executive branch.