(photos by Lynn Sweet)
WASHINGTON—President Bush surprised the guests at the 123rd annual dinner of the Gridiron Club on Saturday when he appeared on stage in white-tie and tails topped with a tan cowboy hat singing a country-and-western parody gently mocking himself.
To the tune of “Green Green Grass of Home,” Bush crooned about his anticipated Crawford, Texas homecoming as the end of his eight-year term approaches, in what he called the “first and final performance of Bush and the Busharoos,” referring to his two back-up singers. At the end, the president stood with the mighty Gridiron Chorus as all sang “Auld Lang Syne” and planted a kiss on the cheek of Helen Thomas, the Hearst columnist who is one of his toughest critics.
Bush had been secretly rehearsing at the White House with Col. Michael Coburn, the club’s music director and the director pf the U.S. Marine Corps Band, and his backup, club “ringers” Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Bennear and Staff Sgt. Sara Dell’Omo.
At the dinner—a lampoon of Democrats and Republicans—Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) subbing at the last minute for the ailing Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.)-- spoke for the Democrats and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) delivered a routine for the Republicans.
Bush came onstage as the show wrapped up with a Bush farewell song, pegged to his attending his final Gridiron dinner. Bush had cue cards with his lyrics—as did all the performers.
“Little Crawford looks the same, as I step down from the plane, And to meet me is my mama and my papa.
Down the lane I look and here comes Barney, heart of gold and breath like honey.
It’s good to touch the brown, brown grass of home,
Yes you’re all…gonna miss me, the way you used to quiz me,
It’s good to touch the brown brown grass of home.
I spend my days clear’n brush, clean my head of all the fuss, like the big fuss you made over Harriet and Brownie.
Down the lane I look and here comes Scooter, finally free of the prosecutor.”
The references are to the beleaguered Harriett Miers, the White House counsel who dropped her Supreme Court nomination; Katrina wash-out FEMA chief Michael Brown, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, whose Plame-gate conviction was commuted by Bush.
The presidential contenders—Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton and GOP presumptive nominee John McCain were all targets in songs. Besides the president, cabinet members, ambassadors, newspaper executives and media names, the audience included David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist; Mark Penn, Clinton’s top advisor and long-time McCain aid Mark Salter.
Carl Leubsdorf of the Dallas Morning News is the club president.