The Obamessiah was too busy, the White House said, and Barack Obama became the first president since Grover Cleveland to omit attending the annual Gridiron Club Dinner.
The Politico tries reading the tea leaves to divine the significance of Obama’s slight, but the obvious subtext is really just the arrogant sense of personal entitlement and contempt for institutions and tradition of the standard-bearer of the cultural left. Barack Obama’s politics has been strong on generational consciousness and he used Change as his personal mantra. The change includes dispensing with respect for old practices and with courtesy toward Washington’s establishment press corps.
No offense intended, says the Obama White House.
None taken, say the esteemed leaders of the Gridiron Club.
Still, in Washington, a slap does not have to be officially labeled as such for its sound to echo â€” and its sting to be felt.
And make no mistake: President Barack Obama deciding that he is too busy to attend the Gridironâ€™s annual banquet later this month is a slap. Heâ€™s the first president since Grover Cleveland to skip the white-tie-and-tails affair in his first year in office.
The official line from the Gridiron Club â€” a society of Washington reporters, columnists, and bureau chiefs â€” is, â€œWe understand.â€
But some Gridiron veterans make clear they donâ€™t understand. Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page said, â€œPeople feel uncommonly saddened, miffed and burned.
â€œI donâ€™t think he understands the implications of not coming to the club in the first year. Itâ€™s not your ordinary state dinner. I think it would be helpful for him and his relations with the Washington establishment to come to the club.â€
Beyond bruised feelings among the pundit class, Obamaâ€™s snub is a revealing cultural moment.
Gridiron has for decades been an inner sanctum of Washingtonâ€™s political press corps. The clubâ€™s mostly aging members were considered highly prestigious because they said so â€” and because they had the ability to summon the capitalâ€™s political elite to a spring frolic of skits and songs.
But if a young and glamorous president decides he can afford to blow off an august and tradition-bound institution, one has to at least entertain the possibility that this institution may not be quite as august as its members assumed.
The rejection was heightened by the thatâ€™s-the-night-I-wash-my-hair explanation the Gridiron got from Obama.
At first, Gridiron members heard through back channels that the Obama family would be in Chicago during the Obama daughtersâ€™ spring break from school. Then, on Friday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said at his daily briefing that the family would actually be in Camp David on March 21, the night of the dinner.
Thatâ€™s not exactly out of town by presidential standards â€” in fact, it is about a 20-minute helicopter ride if Obama had decided the event were important enough.