WASHINGTON -- It may be one of the more difficult speeches a president has to make every year, an address that requires diplomacy, a slight hint of salaciousness, and just enough self-deprecation to make the hits at political foes seem just all in good fun.
Oh -- and the chief executive has to end on a serious, high-minded note about how politicians and the reporters who cover them are really on the same side of democracy, even when they spar.
President Obama managed all that at the White House Correspondents Association dinner Saturday evening, an event attended by some 3,000 of Washington's movers and shakers, plus some Hollywood celebrities with no apparent ties to politics or Washington -- except, perhaps, the desire to be seen (and the journalists' desire to see them).
Obama good-naturedly (sort of) needled Massachusetts Republicans. True, Obama said with a poker face, there are ``hundreds'' of secret provision in the health care law.
One of which, he said, ``is called the Bay State of Denial. It reads: "This bill shall cover short-term memory loss related to the passage of Massachusetts health care reform." So, good news, Mitt, your condition is covered.''
Was that also directed at Massachusetts GOP Senator Scott Brown, who voted for the Massachusetts health care plan but came to Washington on a mission to defeat the federal law? Maybe, but Obama had a Brown-specific line as well.
``Speaking of 'tween heartthrobs, Scott Brown is here,'' Obama said after acknowledging the presence of the Jonas Brothers, whose fans include First daughters Malia and Sasha Obama. ``I admire Scott -- a rare politician in Washington with nothing to hide,'' the president said, referring to the nude centerfold Brown posed for in his youth.
Then there were the shots at under-fire financial firm Goldman Sachs, which Obama said had provided the jokes for the evening. ``So you don't have to worry -- they make money whether you laugh or not.''
On the crowded ballroom floor, news executives and reporters mingled with the likes of singer Bon Jovi, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, actor Bradley Cooper and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Mingling, meaning that it's accepted procedure to look discreetly past the person you;re talking to, in caser there's someone better to talk to behind them. And the preferred greeting is ``nice to see you,'' Washington-speak for, ``I'm not sure if we've met, and don't want to offend you by saying it's nice to meet you.''
Comedian Jay Leno followed the president, with the usual jabs at the president and the press. Leno noted that the press corps seemed happy to be at the dinner with Obama, since ``it's about as close to a White House pres conference they've been in a year.''
Obama teased the news organizations present: Fox News, for being hyper-critical, and MSNBC for being fawning. The Poltiico got slammed for (allegedly) focusing on political minutiae and polls.
About those polls: ``It's been quite a year since I've spoken here last -- lots of ups, lots of downs -- except for my approval ratings, which have just gone down, Obama said. ``But that's politics. It doesn’t bother me. Beside I happen to know that my approval ratings are still very high in the country of my birth.''
But on a serious note, Obama said, ``I think it's fair to say that every single reporter in this room believes deeply in the enterprise of journalism. Every one of you, even the most cynical among you, understands and cherishes the function of a free press and the preservation of our system of government and of our way of life.
``And I want you to know that for all the jokes and the occasional gripes, I cherish that work, as well,'' the president concluded.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.