Opinion: Dick Cheney, and his sunglasses, steal the show at a Washington fete

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The annual Radio and Television Correspondents Assn. Dinner doesn’t attract the same kind of star power as the other black-tie gala held in Washington later this month. (As comedian Mo Rocca put it, the RTCA dinner is the Nicky to the White House Correspondent Dinner’s Paris.)

But corralling the political establishment in a ballroom with hundreds of reporters never fails to produce news-worthy, and sometimes cringe-inducing, moments. (MC Rove, anyone?)


Wednesday’s dinner kicked off with a surprise guest not necessarily known for his comedy chops.
As CBS News political director and dinner chair Steve Chaggaris welcomed the black-tie crowd packed into the ballroom of the Hilton Washington, one-time presidential candidate Mitt Romney strolled onto stage.

“I’m wondering why there is a cardboard cut-out of Mitt Romney behind me,” Chaggaris deadpanned as laughter spread through the room.

“I see I’m getting the same kind of coverage on CBS I used to get,” Romney replied, prompting guffaws.

In fact, the former candidate said he was there to offer a Top Ten List of why he decided ...

to get out of the presidential race, one he reportedly penned himself, with help from his staff. He gamely plunged ahead:

10. There weren’t as many Osmonds as I thought. 9. I got tired of the corkscrew landings under sniper fire. 8. As a lifelong hunter, I didn’t want to miss the start of varmint season. 7. There wasn’t room for two Christian leaders. 6. I was upset that nobody had bothered to search my passport files. 5. I’d rather get fat, grow a beard and try for the Nobel prize. 4. I wanted to finally take off the dark suit and tie and kick back in a light-colored suit and tie. 3. Once my wife realized I couldn’t win, my fundraising dried up. 2. I took a bad fall at a campaign rally and broke my hair. 1. There was a flaw in our theory “As Utah goes, so goes the Nation.”

How do you top that? Well, a barbed speech by Dick Cheney would do it.

As the vice president stood up and went to the lectern, he turned around, put on a floppy hat and sunglasses, then turned back to face the audience.

“You’d be amazed by how many guys want to go fishing with me nowadays,” he said dryly.

To Romney, he noted that if he’s interested in becoming vice president, “just get yourself on that search committee.”

He termed himself the “successor to St. Al,” drawing some groans with his reference to Al Gore. But Cheney said he’s become convinced of global warming, “or, as I prefer to call it, spring. I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but it’s going to be a lot warmer.”

Still, he’s doing his part to cut back on carbon emissions: “Every time I rush to the hospital, I insist on a hybrid ambulance.”

Cheney said he’s been musing about his public image and asked his wife if she minded that people call him “Darth Vader.”

“Not at all, it humanizes you,” he said she responded.

The vice president said he’s excited about the presidential race and “fired up about my candidate, but the feeling isn’t always returned.”

“I feel kind of like –- Bill Clinton.”

Cheney said he’s proud to support John McCain, “even though one of the Democrats running is a relative of mine. He’s Sen. Obama to you, but he’s Cousin Barack to me.”

Noting the controversy about Obama’s longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Cheney said that “if he gets elected, you’re not going to want to miss those Washington prayer breakfasts.”

But he told the media to “go easy on Sen. (Hillary) Clinton on the whole business of running from gunfire in Bosnia. She made an honest mistake. She confused the Bosnia trip with the time I took her hunting.”

Since it was the last time he would be addressing them, the vice president ended on a complimentary note, saying, “I want to tell you that I like and admire the broadcast media. I want to tell you how much I’ve come to appreciate the work you do often under extraordinarily difficult circumstances…

“I want to tell you all these things, but I just can’t bring myself to.”

Comedian Rocca ended the night with some zingers aimed at the news organizations in the room.
On CBS News: “You know things are really bad when CBS News was included as one of the charities in ‘Idol Gives Back.’”

On CNN claiming to be the best political team on television: “That’s kind of like the prettiest girl in accounting.”

On Fox News’ bevy of blond anchors: “It’s like the Von Trapp Family if their favorite things were tax cuts and school vouchers.”

-- Matea Gold