Mona Charen

"Personal charm may be Obama's last best hope" headlined the Washington Post on Monday. That charm was on ample display at the annual vanity fest called the White House Correspondents Association dinner over the weekend.

The dinner always features two comedians -- one professional, and the other, the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Skilled joke writers contribute the one-liners, but delivery counts, too, and President Obama has clearly improved over the course of four years. In 2009, some of his jokes were in bad taste. He said Dick Cheney was writing his memoirs, to be titled "How to Shoot Friends and Interrogate People." While a few lines were amusing -- addressing the press he said, "most of you covered me and all of you voted for me" -- the speech wasn't top-drawer entertainment.

This year's performance was better. The relaxed president demonstrated a mastery of timing, and the humor, if not quite self-deprecating, was disarming. He entered to rap music, and grinned that "Rush Limbaugh warned you: Second-term baby!" Noting that he has gone a little gray, the president acknowledged that when he looks in the mirror, he realizes that "I'm not the strapping, young, Muslim socialist that I used to be." As I say, not self-deprecating, because he's skewering his more fevered critics, not himself, but unquestionably entertaining.

The dinner arrived at an opportune moment. While the president has mastered the high art of giving his most devoted fans (the Washington press corps) a good time, events of the past couple of weeks demonstrate that he remains an amateur, or worse, at the rest of his job.

His signature initiative, Obamacare, was described by Democratic Senator Max Baucus as "a huge train wreck." Other increasingly queasy Democrats have complained to the White House about rate increases and regulatory burdens. "Democrats in both houses of Congress" The New York Times reports, "said some members of their party were getting nervous that they could pay a political price if the rollout of the law was messy or if premiums went up significantly."

The president's transparent attempt to inflict pain on the country to validate his own extravagant predictions of doom regarding the sequester appears to have backfired. When the FAA furloughed air traffic controllers rather than reducing, say, its travel budget or a $474 million grant program to "make communities more livable and sustainable" -- public ire was turned not on Republicans but on the FAA. Congress passed and the president was obliged tamely to sign a law directing the FAA to make better decisions.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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