Ms. Palin’s powerful impact as a cultural figure and potential future presidential candidate was much in evidence at the black tie event. The club’s winter dinner is usually a low key, off-the-record affair. This year’s dinner, featuring Palin and liberal Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts as speakers, drew 190 journalists and spouses, an increase of 17.3 percent from the number who attended last year. The Gridiron Club’s members are veteran reporters and bureau chiefs.
Twitter and otter skin
In a nod to the intense media interest in Palin, the Gridiron Club’s board dropped a 100 year old rule – often violated – that comments made at the dinner were off the record and could not be reported. Instead, twittering was allowed, although not during speeches or songs. Palin tweets herself and noted in her dinner remarks that she had “the Twitter thing going.”
Palin was surrounded by reporters at the pre-dinner reception held on an evening when Washington was in the midst of an early snow storm. The former Alaska governor was dressed in a stylish black dress and carried what she told Chicago Sun Times correspondent Lynn Sweet was a purse made from an otter.
The appearance was a family affair. Todd Palin sat at the head table, and during her talk Palin called out to her parents who stood at the back of the ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel and waved to the crowd. Palin quipped that her mom and dad “crashed the party.”
On the political front, Palin said that “if the election had turned out differently, I could be the one overseeing the signing of bailout checks and Vice President Biden could be on the road selling his book “Going Rogaine.” Biden is known for many things but not a full head of hair.
While Palin was not specific about her political plans, she noted that on Sunday she would be at a book store in Iowa, which is an influential proving ground for presidential candidates. "Come early, long lines are expected," she said.
Tweaking the media
Much of Palin’s gentle political humor was aimed at the media.
“Sometimes you’ve got to trust your instincts, and when you don’t you end up in a place like this," she said. Palin also tweaked journalists for buying books and turning immediately to the index to see if they are mentioned. Her book does not have an index but she made up index entries during her speech including: “A. Alaska, media not understanding it, page 1 to 432.”
One other comment about the media: “It is good to be here though, really, in front of this audience of leading journalists and intellectuals or, as I like to call it, a death panel,” she said.
Palin’s book notes the sometimes troubled relationship she had with McCain campaign staffers. Talking about her bus tour for her book, “Going Rogue,” she said, “the view is so much better inside the bus than under the bus.”
In a reference to the rocky relations she had with Steve Schmidt, McCain’s bald campaign manager, Palin said that if she needed a bald campaign manager, “all that I am left with is James Carville.” Carville is a Democratic strategist.
Poking fun at herself
The ritual at these dinners calls for self-deprecatory humor and Palin obliged. Being at the dinner meant “at least now I can put a face to the newspapers I do read,” she said, referencing her lack of response to Katie Couric's question about what newspapers or magazines she liked to read. Palin also noted that she was “feeling right at home” since she could come down from her room and “could see the Russian embassy” – poking fun at her "you can actually see Russia" from Alaska campaign comment.
And the former Alaska Governor recounted being on a flight and reading a magazine with President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao on the cover. Another passenger said “Hu’s the Communist.” Palin said, “I thought he was asking a question."
The evening ended with what members sarcastically refer to as “the mighty Gridiron chorus” singing a humorous rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas. There, standing with the journalists and vocalists from the United States Marine Band, was a smiling Sarah Palin. The song recounted gifts given by Rush Limbaugh.
“On the twelfth day of Christmas, Rush Limbaugh gave to me: 12 flaming liberals, hunted down in the wild and field dressed, medium well-done, seared on the fatty edges.” At which point Palin chimed in, “right next to the mashed potatoes.”
Correction: An earlier version of this blog entry contained an incorrect attendance figure for the Gridiron dinner and overstated the percentage by which attendance increased.
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