Thursday 24 August 2017

Struggling Obama sees the funny side of political woes

U.S. President Barack Obama laughs at a joke during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington May 3, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama laughs at a joke during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner in Washington May 3, 2014
First lady Michelle Obama laughs while listening to President Obama's speech during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner (AP)

Peter Foster in Washington

Barack Obama's personal poll ratings may have sunk to a historic low of 41pc and Democrats no longer want to be seen with him on the campaign trail, but that has not stopped the US president raising a laugh at his political predicament.

"I admit it, last year was rough," he told the annual White House Correspondents' dinner, to ripples of laughter, "Sheesh. At one point things got so bad, the 47pc called Mitt Romney to apologise."

Mr Obama's need to reach back two years to the 2012 election campaign, when the Republican candidate Mitt Romney was secretly recorded disparaging the "47pc" whom he said did not pay taxes, was widely seen as a sign of just how far his own political fortunes have fallen. Since being re-elected Obama has presided over paralysis in Washington that led to a government shutdown, foreign policy impasse in Syria, Ukraine and the Middle East and the disastrous rollout of his flagship ObamaCare health reforms.

"Of course, we rolled out," he said, referring to the government website that was meant to enrol poor Americans in new insurance policies but constantly crashed. "That could have gone better. In 2008 my slogan was, "Yes We Can." In 2013 my slogan was, 'Control-Alt-Delete'." Mr Obama's speechwriters were not short of material at this year's dinner.

As November's mid-term election approaches, polls show Democrats at growing risk of losing control of the Senate to Republicans, which would give conservatives control of both houses of Congress and render Mr Obama a virtual lame duck. With many key races falling in conservative states where Mr Obama is disproportionately unpopular, few candidates are expected to want to stump alongside a president who many Democrats now perceive as the "problem".

Mr Obama joked about that too, pulling his daughter Sasha into the act.

"Folks are saying that with my sagging poll numbers, my fellow Democrats don't really want me campaigning with them," he said. "I don't think that's true – although I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker at career day, and she invited Bill Clinton. I was a little hurt by that."

The audience of 2,500 included the actors Robert De Niro and Patrick Stewart, and the reply was delivered by the comedian Joel McHale from the NBC show Community. Mr McHale laid into both Republicans and Democrats, teasing Mr Obama for his grey hairs before taking a sharp dig at one of the biggest unfulfilled promises.

"My favourite bit of yours was when you said you would close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay," he said, "that was hilarious." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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