April 29, 2012

Les Enfants Plaza: On the WHCD

It's Sunday evening, and I need to get something off my chest that has been bothering me all weekend. The annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner is my least favorite annual event on the calendar in this city, and for all the reasons people have already identified: the sycophancy, the all-too-close relationship between the decisions makers in this city and the people who cover them, the desire of so many journalists to not simply report the news but to be the news themselves. 

I think it's great, actually, that the president can poke fun at himself and others -- I laughed while reading the president's speech and enjoyed those of President Bush as well. And I heartily approve of journalists breaking bread and sharing the occasional drink with their sources and subjects. There's nothing wrong with any of that when it is done discretely and in moderation.

But what really set me off was the constant use of the phrase "nerd prom" -- usually by the attendants themselves -- to describe the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner. Teenagers go to proms -- not grown men and women. This is part of a broader pattern I see in Washington -- a pattern which include cupcake stores, kickball leagues, and adults dressing up on Halloween (to amuse themselves, not children) -- whereby ostensibly grown people adopt the rituals of childhood.*

Unlike some people <cough> Spencer Ackerman </cough>, I really like Washington, DC: I love my neighborhood, I love my neighbors, I love my neighborhood church, and I love my local rugby club. I especially love the fact that neither my neighbors, nor the people in my church, nor my rugby teammates care anything about what I do for a living and that my social life is generally pretty separate from my professional life. I met my wife here, and although I very much miss Tennessee, I enjoy my adopted hometown.

But it rubs me the wrong way that people sending 18-year old kids off to war spend so much of their own time posing as children. Grow the bleep up, DC. It's no wonder the Congress behaves like infants when they see nothing but infants around them.**

*Yes, yes, I realize what you're thinking: who am I to be lectured on behaving like an adult from a d*** Lego man? I can explain: in Iraq, in 2003, I got some very wise advice from an officer in the British SAS for whom I was working. He told me that keeping one's sense of humor was one of the most important things one could do. The minute you start taking yourself too seriously, he told me, you start thinking you're too good to get killed. So I have always tried to not take myself too seriously and to approach even the most serious subjects -- war, terrorism -- with a sense of humor. Hence the Lego jihadi. There is a thin line, though, between having a sense of humor and behaving like a jackass. I'm not sure where that line is, but I'm sure it has been crossed when you start attending parties with Kardashians present.

**I might be affected by having spent the entire weekend with my father-in-law, who is the most adult man I know. The guy got off a boat from southern Italy about 50 years ago with his mother, his father, his infant brother, and about $50 between the four of them. He's been working hard ever since and took enough pity on his son-in-law this weekend to show him how to do all the things around the house that he, as a man in his thirties, frankly should have known how to do already. (By the way, look out, world: I can replace windowpanes now.)