Newspaper article Roll Call

Obama's Jab in Boehner's Ribs: Why Now?

Newspaper article Roll Call

Obama's Jab in Boehner's Ribs: Why Now?

Article excerpt

Congress is used to being the butt of the joke. And ribbing from the president comes with the territory, especially at annual formal- dress affairs where top government officials poke at each other for the benefit of the press.

But those ground rules also hold that attempts at lame political humor ought to stop at the water's edge.

Two weeks ago to the Gridiron Club, where the motto is "singe not burn," Obama's monologue referred to "a dysfunctional Congress, a looming budget crisis, complaints that I don't spend enough time with the press," and then noted that those were the headlines when he previously addressed the dinner, two years before. "It's funny, it seems like it was just yesterday," he said to a silent rim-shot in the background and warm laughter from the crowd.

Such soft-soap comedy is what passes for social lubricant in the all-too-humorless capital these days, because all the players have essentially agreed to get the jokes, accept their limitations and move on.

Which is why Obama's quip Tuesday on the Tel Aviv tarmac fell with such a thud. It sounded only more discordant in context, which was the unscripted small talk between two global powers laboring to paper over the distance and prickliness of their relationship.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked, while the pair prepared to review a military honor guard, if Obama was counting on some rest and relaxation during his trip to Israel, the president broke into a broad grin and didn't miss a beat before allowing: "It's good to get away from Congress."

The jape was caught on an open mic and appeared in no official transcripts, underscroring the perception that Obama is never more candid than when he's lamenting his troubles back home in conversations abroad -- and doing so with a foreign leader on the curious assumption that no one's listening in. Recall how, at a Pacific Rim summit in Seoul, South Korea, a year ago, Obama asked Russian leaders for "space" on negotiating a missile defense pact until after the campaign, promising, "After my election, I have more flexibility."

If overseas travel is a sort of elixir of truth for the president, then this "in vino veritas" moment couldn't have come at a less opportune time. …

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