Obama serious about new ‘bucket’ outlook

Updated 10:04 PM EDT, Sun April 26, 2015
President Barack Obama attends the annual White House Correspondent's Association Gala at the Washington Hilton hotel April 25, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
President Barack Obama attends the annual White House Correspondent's Association Gala at the Washington Hilton hotel April 25, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
(CNN) —  


Swap the “B” for a “F” and say that word out loud and you’ll understand what President Barack Obama really thinks about Republican accusations he burst out of Constitutional constraints and has gone rogue in the twilight of his presidency.

Obama used a riotous annual address to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on Saturday to pay back political foes and rebuke journalists who erred by writing him off after the Democratic mid-term election debacle last year.

It was a performance which will delight his fans, but may cement a critique among opponents that Obama is much happier dishing out shots than taking them – but the caustic tone of the speech fits right in with Washington’s bitterly partisan political culture.

Obama, whose cutting sarcasm has introduced an edgier tone to the annual gala, lampooned attacks against him that have dogged his presidency, rebuffing claims he was arrogant, aloof and on his way out.

His zingers didn’t flinch from taking on the most delicate of topics, including race – and in a prolonged riff he enjoyed himself at the expense of candidates already lining up to take a shot at succeeding him in 2016.

In a centerpiece joke being played over and over on news shows, Obama said he had drawn up a “bucket list” of things he wanted to get done before he leaves the White House in January 2017.

“Take executive action on immigration? Bucket. New climate regulations? Bucket. It’s the right thing to do,” Obama said, picking up on criticism of his executive actions, which Republicans say have gone far beyond his legal authority.

It was a classic case of a president using the annual gathering of journalists, celebrities and top Washington officials to say the kind of things he would never get away with in the more formal setting of the White House.

His “bucket” joke was rooted on a foundation of truth – the president knows that with no more elections left to run and his legacy solidifying, he’s no longer playing the daily political game. It’s the historians who will keep the score from now on, so he seems to think that Republican attacks are just water off a duck’s back.

In his most daring gag, Obama seized upon the perception that though his mood is supernaturally calm and he rarely loses his temper, there is a raging resentment boiling away inside him over the indignities he must suffer to be president.

“I am mellow sort of guy, that’s why I invited Luther, my anger translator to join me here tonight,” Obama said, introducing Comedy Central star Keegan-Michael Key.

“Hold on to your lily white butts,” Key roared from behind the president’s right ear, his staring eyes almost popping out of his head, in a joke exposing the extreme delicacy with which the first African American president has sometimes approached discussions of race during his administration.

Obama also could not resist the temptation of ridiculing the forming 2016 presidential field and the journalists who are covering it.

He jabbed fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton for her multi-million dollar speaking fees and her listening tour in her black Scooby van, saying it proved times were still tough for some Americans.

“I have one friend, just a few weeks ago, she was making millions of dollars a year, and now she’s living out of a van in Iowa,” Obama joked.

He slammed one possible longshot Democratic rival for Clinton, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, as someone who could go “completely unrecognized at a Martin O’Malley campaign event.”

One of the top Republicans, Ted Cruz, also took a pounding with Obama’s cutting observation that “Galileo believed the world revolved around the sun. Ted Cruz believes the world revolves around Ted Cruz.”

Obama has often shown up to the annual dinner with his presidency mired in political crises. But with his approval ratings on the up and with the economy improving, West Wing staffers think their boss is on a roll and he wasn’t shy showing it last night.

Obama seemed particularly comfortable in his role as president, and relished taking on controversies still rocking his administration: in a joke already making waves in the Middle East, he even included a quip about the parlous state of US-Israeli relations.

“I look so old, John Boehner’s already invited Netanyahu to speak at my funeral,” said Obama and then bemoaned how hard he had to work, with a sideswipe at conservative critics who have cast doubt on his Christian faith and who say he is a closet Muslim.

“Being president is never easy. I still have to fix the broken immigration system. Issue veto threats. Negotiate with Iran. All while finding time to pray five times a day.”

READ: Obama’s best lines from WHCD

White House Correspondents’ Association dinners often offer a reflection of a president’s character. President George W. Bush used the event to indulge in self mockery, taking the sting out of attacks by critics who mocked his frequent difficulty in expressing himself clearly in public.

Obama leans more to the sarcastic end of the comedic spectrum. But aides say he picks who to mock carefully and only hits those who can fire back. Two of his favorite targets returned in last night’s speech: Joe Biden, who he jabbed for a shoulder massage the Vice President gave the wife of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on camera, and John McCain, who he quipped was an angry old man the president could use to keep fence jumpers off the White House lawn.

The Bush administration did not escape his sharp tongue either.

“Dick Cheney said I was the worst president of his lifetime, which is interesting because I think Dick Cheney is the worst president of my lifetime,” Obama said, referring to claims the former vice president was the real political power center in the Oval Office between 2001 and 2009.

Aides said that there were many more jokes left on the cutting room floor on Saturday because they were deemed too edgy even for Obama’s no-holds-barred brand of humor.

That left some guests wondering how far the president will push the line next year, at his final WHCA dinner, when he will likely feel even less constrained by convention and political niceties than he was on Saturday night.