President Biden understandably wants to project a sense of normalcy after two-plus years of pandemic chaos. To that end, he has decided to attend this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner — also known as the “Nerd Prom” by some of the most annoying people on earth — even as top lawmakers including Kamala Harris have tested positive for COVID in recent days. This would be a defensible decision if the dinner were in any way salutary for a functioning democracy. It isn’t. It’s just a way-too-cozy gathering of politicians and the journalists who are supposed to cover them aggressively, the supposed justification of which is to raise money for journalism scholarships. (There are other ways to do that.) The WHCD has had its moments: Stephen Colbert’s evisceration of a visibly displeased George W. Bush is still an all-timer, and Seth Meyers and Barack Obama ragging on Donald Trump was hilarious until … well, you know. But really, this thing should have died a long time ago. Unfortunately, the dinner appears to be unkillable — not even years of Trump’s nonattendance, a supposedly scandalous Michelle Wolf joke, and two pandemic cancellations have done the job.
With his multiple boosters and easy access to Paxlovid, Biden does not seem at high risk of a truly serious COVID case. And the Washington Post reports that because of safety concerns, he plans to “skip the dinner portion of the evening and might take precautions like wearing a mask at times.” Still, it seems unwise for a 79-year-old with the nuclear codes to expose himself to the virus for no great reason — especially when the event in question, with an expected attendance of 2,000, isn’t taking some seemingly advisable safety steps. After a recent outbreak stemming from the Gridiron dinner (another hoary Washington politics/journalism confab), Dr. Anthony Fauci, not exactly a spotlight-hater, has decided against attending the WHCD, judging the risk to be too high for him personally. Biden probably fears looking weak if he backs out now, which is why he should have declared the entire thing nonsense months ago. But the ultimate Washington institutionalist was never going to do that, so here we are.