/ 28 April 2008

His final bow: Bush’s last supper with the press

United States President George Bush described his mood as ”a little wistful” on Saturday night as he attended his last White House correspondents’ dinner.

The president, who is said by those around him to detest journalists, has given the impression down the years that he would rather be somewhere else. Laura Bush joked three years ago he would rather be tucked up in bed in the White House and a year later the president left abruptly after being subjected to a diatribe by the political satirist Stephen Colbert. Bush, looking at ease, insisted that ”surprisingly, I have enjoyed these dinners”, describing them as an opportunity to put aside differences for a few hours. He recalled highlights such as Ozzy Osbourne standing on a chair to blow him a kiss. ”Few leaders get that experience,” he said.

He expressed surprise that none of his possible successors — the Republican John McCain and the two Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — were present. ”Hillary Clinton couldn’t get in because of sniper fire,” he joked, referring to her discredited claim to have come under fire in the Balkans. Obama, he said, was ”in church”.

”Senator McCain’s not here. He probably wanted to distance himself from me a little bit,” said the president who last week recorded the lowest approval ratings of any White House incumbent since polling began.

In another dig at Clinton, he said: ”Please excuse me if I am a little sleepy. The phone went off at three in the morning.” Clinton’s best known campaign ad, released in February, showed a phone going off in the White House at 3am and asked whether the public would prefer Clinton or Obama to be answering.

The dinners bring together 2 800 politicians, journalists and minor Hollywood celebrities. On Saturday, the mix was the usual eclectic one, politicians such as Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger, with celebrities such as Pamela Anderson, Colin Firth, Ben Affleck and Salman Rushdie.

Speaking alongside Bush at the dinner was the comedian and host of CBS’s Late Late Show Craig Ferguson, who focused mainly on the media, who made up the bulk of the audience. He asked the audience whether they would be supporting the Democrats or Republicans in the November general election, with the loudest cheer by far for the Democrats. That put to rest the idea of liberal bias in the media, Ferguson quipped.

To mark his finale, Bush said he was going to do something he had always wanted to do. The curtains parted to reveal a brass band. He turned his back and picked up a baton. Bush hammed it up, taking the band through a repertoire of patriotic tunes. – guardian.co.uk Â