The White House Correspondents Dinner is back from a two-year, coronavirus-related hiatus, and a former Washington-based reporter revealed how that annual event changed Democratic politics for the worse.
Meredith Shriner, a Chicago communications consultant who covered politics and Congress during most of Barack Obama's presidency, said she loathed going to the correspondents dinner and hated the way it presented Beltway journalism as a game, and she just published a scathing column in Rolling Stone highlighting the terrible ways that event left a lasting contribution.
"The presidency of Barack Obama transformed the Democratic Party in ways many pundits already have explored ad nauseum, from a revolution in data analytics to Obama’s creation of an entire political infrastructure outside of the Democratic National Committee," Shriner wrote. "Yet, the White House Correspondents Dinner, now that it’s back from its hiatus in the two years we acknowledged the ongoing pandemic as real, is also a reminder of perhaps Obama’s worst contribution to modern politics: the marriage between actual Hollywood and the 'Hollywood for ugly people' known as Washington."
Hollywood celebrities flocked to Washington during the Obama years, and that got political operatives who previously would have expected to cash out as lobbyists to start using social media to boost their image in hopes of landing a lucrative media career after public service.
"But to truly understand what allowed one weekend of cocktail parties and brunches to change Washington, you also have to remember the dynamics of 2009," Shriner wrote. "Twitter was exploding as a tool for individual staffers who once were largely anonymous to build their own voices and followings, a generation of young Democratic staffers drunk on Aaron Sorkin thought The West Wing could be real life and that they somehow could be Rob Lowe."
"With the energy and technocratic sleekness of the Obama machine," she added, "they saw themselves as glamorous characters on a TV show instead of cogs in a bureaucracy, and then the White House Correspondents Dinner came along, and they met their heroes."
Jen Psaki, who's leaving her job as White House press secretary for an MSNBC gig, recently appeared on Lowe's podcast and explained that his character was particularly "inspiring," and Shriner said she's a perfect example of how the Obama presidency changed Democratic politics for the worse.
"When Spotify and HBO deals are the end goal for public service, what does that say about the motives of those who should be on the frontlines for the fight for democracy?" Shriner wrote. "I’m not arguing that the traditional revolving door for public officials between lobbying and government is good. It’s not! But the incentives for a person in government who wants to cash out the old fashioned way is to spend years in government, understand how it works and be well-connected within it. The incentives for a person in government who wants a podcast deal is to tweet a lot and hope enough people smash that retweet button to become a Blue Checkmark."