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Palin, Obama Share Spotlight at Dinner

Sunday, 01 Feb 2009 12:00 PM

President Barack Obama joked around at an exclusive gathering of America's political movers and shakers, while his former opponent Sarah Palin relished the chance to have dinner with him.

The light-hearted evening of dinner and political jibes late Saturday, a nearly century-old tradition of the prestigious Alfalfa Club, requires that participants try their hand at comedy, which they carry off with greater or lesser success.

Obama, the first black U.S. president, alluded to the fact that the event's freighted history, being founded by a white Southerner to honor a Confederate Civil War General, made his starring turn rather unlikely.

"Many of you are aware that this dinner began almost 100 years ago as a way to celebrate the birthday of General Robert E. Lee," Obama said.

"If he were here with us tonight, the general would be 202 years old — and very confused," Obama quipped.

U.S. media reported last week that Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate in last year's election, said she planned to attend the black-tie event to promote her state's interests, and "because President Obama is scheduled to be there."

"How often will I have an opportunity to have dinner with the president?" the Alaska governor is reported to have said.

Obama also poked good-natured fun at the famously foul mouth of his chief of staff, former Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

"This hasn't been reported yet, but it was actually Rahm's idea to do the swearing-in ceremony again," Obama said jokingly, referring to the now famous do-over of his flubbed inauguration oath.

"Of course, for Rahm, every day is a swearing-in ceremony," Obama said.

The president also found humor in his hard-fought negotiations with U.S. security officials to keep his cherished Blackberry mobile communications device.

"In just the first few weeks, I've had to engage in some of the toughest diplomacy of my life. And that was just to keep my Blackberry," he joked.

"I finally agreed to limit the number of people who could email me. It's a very exclusive list. How exclusive? Everyone look at the person sitting on your left. Now look at the person sitting on your right. None of you have my email address."

Palin arrived wearing an elegant black satin evening gown and a matching wrap. Longtime observer of the Washington social scene, Letitia Baldrige, formerly chief of staff to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, said Palin's attendance at the posh gathering underscores her arrival as a politician of consequence.

"It's something that everybody who's anybody in politics wants to be invited to," Baldrige told the McClatchy News Agency.

The Alfalfa Club did not allow women as members until 1993. Late Saturday dozens of powerful women streamed in, among them Palin and Obama's new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Among the men seen entering the high-wattage affair were former U.S. Defense chief Donald Rumsfeld and former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

News reports citing participants said Palin was the object of jovial ribbing, on the heels of her breakthrough last year as the first woman on a Republican Party presidential ticket.

Copyright 2009 AFP. All rights reserved.

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