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Inside Politics

War no joke for Bush at correspondents' dinner

President Bush at the annual White House Correspondents' dinner
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President Bush avoided the war in his one-liners at a correspondents' dinner, leaving most of the laughs to comedian Jay Leno.

President Bush's and Vice President Dick Cheney's closed door testimony to the 9/11 commission was the target of late-night televison comics.
George W. Bush
Pat Tillman

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- -- President Bush fired off a few one-liners but unlike a month ago when he poked fun at himself over the issue of weapons of mass destruction, the Iraq war was no joking matter at a traditionally tongue-in-cheek journalists' dinner Saturday night.

Five of the eight minutes Bush spoke to the White House correspondents were devoted to a serious message about the service of Americans -- in the news media and the military -- in what the president called "a period of testing and sacrifice."

Democrats charged Bush "crossed the line" a month ago when he gave a stand-up performance at the annual Radio and Television Correspondents' dinner, including a comedic slide show about his search for WMDs.

Still, the president did draw laughs with a well-timed delivery in his first three minutes at the podium.

"I was going to start off tonight by telling some self-deprecating jokes, but then I couldn't think of any mistakes I've made to be self-deprecating about," Bush said. He was referring to his recent news conference in which he was stumped by a reporter who asked him to name any mistake he regretted making as president.

Bush suggested he would have help with tough questions in future news conferences.

"So from now on, Dick and I will be holding joint press conferences." Bush was making light of criticism made by the White House insistence that Vice President Dick Cheney be at his side Thursday when the 9/11 commissioners questioned him in the Oval Office.

He joked that another option would be for journalist Bob Woodward to deliver his answers for him. Woodward is author of "Plan of Attack," a best-selling book detailing Bush's decision making the led to the Iraq war.

Books critical about his presidency did not escape Bush's comic attacks.

"It really gets me when the critics say I haven't done enough for the economy," he said. "I mean, look what I've done for the book publishing industry. You've heard some of the titles. 'Big Lies,' 'The Lies of George W. Bush,' 'The Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.' I'd like to tell you I've read each of these books, but that'd be a lie."

'America is again asking for courage and sacrifice'

With that, President Bush turned serious.

"This year we are also mindful that our country is in a period of testing and sacrifice," he said. "As I speak to you, men and women in uniform are taking great risks and so are many journalists who are being faithful to their own sense of duty."

"This generation of wartime journalists has done fine work and much more and they will be remembered long after the first draft of history is completed," Bush said. "The same is true of our military."

He said the upcoming dedication of the World War II memorial in Washington and the 60th anniversary of the Normandy invasion "will have an added meaning because America is again asking for courage and sacrifice."

"As we honor veterans who are leaving us, we also honor qualities that remain," he said. "The generation of World War II can be certain of this, when they are gone, we will still have their kind wearing the uniform of the United States of America."

One reminder, he said, was last week's death of Pat Tillman, who gave up an NFL career to join the Army after the 9/11 attacks and was killed in combat in Afghanistan.

"The loss of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman last week in Afghanistan brought home the sorrow that comes with every loss and reminds us of the character of the men and women who serve on our behalf.

"They fill the ranks of the Armed Forces," he said. "Everyday somewhere they do brave and good things without notice. Their courage is usually seen only by their comrades, by those who long to be free and by the enemy.

"They're willing to give up their lives and when one is lost a whole world of hopes and possibilities is lost with them," Bush said. "This evening, we think of the families who grieve and the families that wait on a loved one's safe return. We count ourselves lucky that this new generation of Americans is as brave and decent as any before it. And we honor with pride and wonder the men and women who carry the flag and the cause of the United States."

President Bush was followed at the podium by comedian Jay Leno, who was less restrained about the target of his one-liners. With the president sitting nearby at the head table, Leno took aim at Bush's "mission accomplished" speech of a year ago.

"I thought he looked quite good in his flight suit landing on the aircraft carrier," Leno said. "He looked very natural, like he wore it everyday. It was like seeing Dick Cheney in a hospital gown. It looked like the most normal thing in the world."

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