An establishment with a fragile ego

AN ESTABLISHMENT WITH A FRAGILE EGO…. President Obama, citing family commitments, announced last week that he would skip this year’s dinner at the Gridiron Club. He will be the first president since Grover Cleveland to skip the event in his first year in office.

This isn’t going over well in some circles.

Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page said, “People feel uncommonly saddened, miffed and burned.

“I don’t think he understands the implications of not coming to the club in the first year. It’s not your ordinary state dinner. I think it would be helpful for him and his relations with the Washington establishment to come to the club.”

Beyond bruised feelings among the pundit class, Obama’s snub is a revealing cultural moment.

Gridiron has for decades been an inner sanctum of Washington’s political press corps. The club’s mostly aging members were considered highly prestigious because they said so — and because they had the ability to summon the capital’s political elite to a spring frolic of skits and songs.

But if a young and glamorous president decides he can afford to blow off an august and tradition-bound institution, one has to at least entertain the possibility that this institution may not be quite as august as its members assumed.

Yes, and what a tragedy that would be.

There seem to be quite a few of these events of the political establishment. Everyone gets together and has a few laughs at, for example, the Alfalfa Dinner. And the dinner for the White House Correspondents’ Association. And the dinner for the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association. And the annual event at the Gridiron Club.

How many of these require presidential appearances in order to avoid hurt feelings and establishment “snubs”?

I’m especially surprised by Clarence Page’s comments about Obama improving his “relations with the Washington establishment” by attending the dinner. Is that the way to garner respect from political reporters?

For that matter, it’s not at all clear stroking the media establishment’s ego makes any difference. I seem to recall a recent dinner at George Will’s house in which Obama made an appearance, chatting up the likes of Krauthammer, Brooks, and Kristol. I’ve seen their columns since; I don’t think the dinner helped.