A friend who attended the White House Correspondent's dinner confirmed reports that President Bush said, "In light of this week’s tragedy at Virginia Tech, I decided not to try to be funny." Without minimizing the terrible events in Blacksburg, one wonders whether his polite refusal to "be funny" on account of the Tech tragedy was really about that at all.
If Mr. Bush really felt incapable of humor because of the tragic deaths of young people, one wonders why he didn't simply say he couldn't attend the dinner. After all, more people--more than 100--(US, UK and Iraqi forces) died in Iraq on April 16th than at Virginia Tech. Seventy-six Americans have died in April alone. More than 3,300 Americans have died in Iraq since the start of the war--from IEDs, hostile fire and beheadings, all truly terrible ways to die. Their last breaths drawn far from home and family.
How is he able to "try to be funny" every other week of the year, I wonder? Again, the foregoing does not minimize the shock and horror of what happened in Blacksburg, nor does it say that it wouldn't have been inappropriate to joke at the dinner. It simply asks why the President considers one event a humor-stopper but not the other. We've been at war with al-Qaeda in either Afghanistan or Iraq since 2001. Bush attended--and "tried to be funny" with great effect at all of those dinners. Why not be consistent? Why not just say, "We are a nation at war, and I simply can't make merry while young Americans are dying. I will be funny again when all of our young men and women are at home to laugh with us."