The Gridiron truce

THE Washington press is a little less adversarial, a little less suspicious, a little less hostile. Political leaders in the capital are a little more friendly, a little more open in their dealings with the media. The Presidential-press relationship has suddenly warmed. Clearing the air - so badly needed in this Iran-contra atmosphere - is the annual spring banquet-show put on by the Gridiron Club of Washington. For four hours a truce is invoked. Those who make and those who write the news sit down and break bread together (actually, a sumptuous meal), exchange insults, and, most important, laugh loudly together.

Everyone at this year's bash was a winner. So was the democratic process which works best when those involved speak civilly to one another. But clearly the victor was the President who, as several writers pointed out afterward, had that special advantage: This was show business, and he is an acknowledged master.

Mr. Reagan was roughed up a bit by several songs. To ``Deck the Halls'' the Gridiron members sang:

``Pack the Court with Reagan's choices, tra-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la; Banish all dissenting voices, tra-la, etc. When we're all his right-wing minions, tra-la, etc. He can mail in our opinions, tra-la, etc.''

Then a woman journalist, dressed to look like Maureen Reagan as a small girl, looked at the President from the stage and sang to ``My Heart Belongs to Daddy'':

``I've led some fights for women's rights, But not as a liberal baddie. The GOP is my cup of tea, Cause my heart belongs to Daddy.

Each day I scoff at Fahrenkopf And his '88 handicapping. My Dad will choose the one who can't lose Just as soon as he's done napping.''

Later, when it came his turn for rebuttal, the President made fun of himself in such a winning way that he soon had his severest critics applauding.

``With Iran occupying everyone's attention,'' he said, ``I was thinking: Do you remember the flap when I said, `We begin bombing in 5 minutes?' Remember when I fell asleep during my audience with the Pope? Remember Bitburg?...Boy, those were the good, old days!''

Then referring to the Maureen Reagan song, Reagan quipped: ``It's true hard work never killed anybody - but I figure why take the chance?''

It was a tough audience - most of the nation's top governmental and political leaders and publishers. But Reagan, as they say in vaudeville, knocked `em dead.

Nancy Reagan first began to be accepted by the Washington press when she showed herself to be a such a good sport at an earlier Gridiron show.

This time she ``took it'' gracefully once again with an ``exercise song,'' that was done as a chant to some of these words:

``Grand, grand, Isn't it grand What she can do With a tiny little hand?

Nancy Reagan With a smile Can toss a bureaucrat Quarter of a mile.''

Mrs. Reagan smiled sweetly while being ``roasted.'' Sometimes she would look at her husband, and they would exchange grins. If they were not enjoying some of the cutting songs and remarks, they certainly were not letting it show. Other guests in the past - such as Presidents Johnson and Nixon - glowered when the ridicule got a little rough. Then they refused to return to the banquets during the rest of their time in office.

Ronald and Nancy Reagan come back to Gridiron every year. Next year - their final performance - they have asked to do an act special for the occasion.

Godfrey Sperling Jr. is the Monitor's senior Washington columnist.

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