America has changed. There is no doubt in my mind. I did a brief stint in Memphis, Tenn., in 1965 and 1966 when my family moved there. I was regarded as a northerner who had no sense and was disrupting the socialization norms at my school. I was talking to them about integration, and they thought they were integrating the school with me because I was Jewish. We lived in White Station, a section of greater Memphis, and it was aptly named. Unless someone was cleaning houses, you could not find anyone in the strip shopping mall or Shoney's restaurant who was black, Chinese or any other minority.
Fast forwarding to 2009's White House Correspondents' Association dinner that I attended, it made me understand how far America has come and how much it has changed in 44 years. I'm not just talking about small changes but major changes. The White House Correspondents' dinner did not even admit women until 1952. If you had asked a woman correspondent back then if it were possible to have a black president and a black lesbian comedian at the top of the billing, she would have said it would be easier to land on Mars. It would not have even been in the realm of possibility.
What this year's dinner shows is that America can change, and – although not without a ton of pain and difficulty – America has a unique ability to move quickly and adapt to an even faster changing world. President Obama was funny, and he knew it. You could see his broad smile every time one of his jokes hit it out of the park. I have said in many columns that we elect presidents who we want to invite in our living rooms for the next four years, and he earned his place in America's living rooms last night. It wasn't that he was just funny; it was that he proved he was watching and listening to how America perceived his presidency and could take the issues on one by one.
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His humor attempted to diffuse the critics. Clearly the 30 percent of the voting public who will vote for the Republican candidate no matter what were not amused, but the middle voter can relate to the self-deprecating president. He made America laugh at a time when laughs are hard to come by. He addressed the Obama stereotypes the right wing (and even the left wing has to offer) the over use of the teleprompter (fake ones came up as he began to speak). He then used his own notes the rest of the evening. Not wanting to push the Air Force One's New York City flyover, he joked that his two daughters were grounded because they had taken the plane on its memorable trip. He addressed the not talked about but known feelings about his relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and giving a nod to the flu epidemic) by saying, "The second she got back from Mexico she pulled me into a big hug and gave me a big kiss, told me I'd better get down there myself."
He took on a personality characteristic he has been accused of so often: arrogance by tossing off some one-liners designed to defuse it. "I would like to talk about what my administration plans to achieve in the next 100 days. During the second 100 days, we will design, build and open a library dedicated to my first 100 days." He continued to self-rib by saying, "I believe that my next 100 days will be so successful, I will be able to complete them in 72 days and on the 73rd I will rest."
This tsunami of a transition in the presidency from a conservative white Eastern blue blood from Texas to a mixed-race child born in rather meager circumstances could only take place in a country that has undergone the pain of the segregated '50s and the upheaval of the '60s with a president who is smart and has a good sense of humor. It will move forward proving that the commander in chief must also rely on the ability to be humorist in chief. Laughter, as they say, is the best medicine.
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