Next Saturday, President Obama will break a tradition going back 124 years when he becomes the first chief executive since Grover Cleveland to skip the Gridiron Dinner during his initial year in office. At the Gridiron, journalists put on a satirical show, with politicians joining in the fun later in the evening.
There are two thoughts on this seeming snub: First off, Obama has enjoyed a fairly easy ride from the media midway through his first 100 days, and skipping such a big social event with members of the fourth estate seems somewhere between rude and risky. This might give rise to thoughts such as, "Does Obama believe he's above Washington institutions?"
Why burn away some political goodwill by blowing off the press? He may need that later when the bigger parts of his agenda are slogging through -- or in deep trouble in -- Congress.
On the other hand, there's a way of looking at this that redounds in Obama's favor. The dinner apparently conflicts with things on the Obama kids' schedule. Putting time with the kids before journalists yukking it up isn't exactly a bad idea.
More importantly, maybe Obama realizes that this isn't exactly the best time to be seen yukking it up with journalists period. Hey, folks, there is a near-depression going on! Yes, FDR attended the Gridiron during the Great Depression, but it wasn't televised. It probably wasn't covered at all.
Skipping the Gridiron Dinner might be breaking a certain Washington, DC, protocol, but common-sense dictates that the president should not be seen flaunting a white-tie when there is an option to be spending time with his young daughters. Given that several banks have been criticized for seeming lavish expenditures after they accepted bail-out cash, journalists and politicians hobnobbing together in these economically perilous times just doesn't seem right. .
Besides, Gridiron is only the first of several media/government smooze-fests. There's still the Radio-TV Correspondents and White House Correspondents dinners to come this spring. Those, however, are tamer affairs without journalists in dress-up.
On balance, maybe the president made the right choice.