On Saturday, the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner was held. Each year a famous comedian is invited to both entertain and "roast" the attendees, the president, members of the media, politicians, and political hopefuls. Most of the jokes are esoteric and in the past have been light-hearted. Previous presidents have used the opportunity to joke with the media in a playful way as well as make self-deprecating jokes. President Barack Obama, however, has, with each successive year turned up the heat in his speech at the dinner. Perhaps his least guarded moment, the president is able to use the guise of comedy to, ironically, speak from the heart. This speech that the president gives is therefore the highlight of the American year in politics for me. A proper understanding of what goes on at the dinner, what is said, what is left unsaid, is enough for someone foreign to American politics to really grasp what America and its government is all about.
Some might say that this is an exaggeration and that the dinner is just fun and games, however, I want to share two important "jokes" the president told to highlight my point.
One of the jokes President Obama told was about the Koch brothers. The Koch brothers are the owners of Koch Industries and their combined wealth makes them the richest people in the world according to Forbes magazine, totaling over $85 billion dollars. (Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are at least $5 billion poorer.) Obama joked that the race for their affection and their $1 billion dollar campaign donation was on for Republican Presidential hopefuls: "It's amazing how time flies and soon the first presidential contest will take place and I for one cannot wait to see who the Koch brothers pick."
Although completely legal, the Koch brothers can almost certainly choose the Republican nominee for president with a large enough donation and they may also be able to choose the Democratic nominee for president as well. The United States Supreme Court decision in "Citizens United" reaffirmed the "money is political speech" argument and paved the way for the billions of dollars now circulating in American politics.
If money is now political speech, then hostile takeovers and all other corporate jargon used to describe taking over companies can be used for governments. In fact, in this era of globalization, if nations are corporations, then the people are the shareholders that choose the board of directors in the form of a government. Whether or not people like this interpretation will be decided most probably in the near future, at least in the United States, as several ageing U.S. Supreme Court justices will either retire or die either before Obama's term is up or at the very least in the first term of the next U.S. Supreme Court justice.
Obama went on to "answer" the question of whether or not he had a "bucket list" now that his presidency is winding down by saying he had something that "rhymes with bucket list." The implication being that Obama would be doing things despite the objections of Congress and the media. Obama said that he would respond to executive action on immigration, climate regulations, and his "new Cuba policy," by responding with "bucket." In the self-described "fourth-quarter" of his presidency, the U.S. executive is left with no more elections, no one left to please or appease, he or she is free to do whatever they want as long as those actions are not successfully challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court and even then, implementing the Supreme Court's will is still a job left to the executive branch. Short of impeachment, the president is nearly unbridled in his or her will to implement policy, as long as he can fund such policies. Things such as normalizing relations with Cuba or removing Iranian trade embargoes do not require overt funding and therefore are very easy to execute. So if countries are corporations then these types of actions are really sanctioned by the private sector, those that control the "political speech."
Forgive the oversimplification. I'm sure it's not as black as white as can be inferred from two jokes made at a dinner but any student of history knows that emperors, kings, and sultans are not only very easily removed, but are bound by the will of the elites. If anything, the White House Correspondents' Dinner might illustrate that the ones with real power are not only not speaking, but are probably not at the dinner itself. At least until the fourth-quarter.