Testing, testing: why Obama was lost for words

Barack Obama shared top billing with Elmo from Sesame Street, Papa Smurf and Clifford the Big Red Dog, as children from across the US descended on the White House yesterday for the annual Easter Egg Roll. And for a brief moment, the great orator was silenced by a faulty sound system, reduced to tapping the mic and forced instead to make polite conversation with a giant Easter Bunny.

Fittingly, it was the children who saved the day, when Malia Obama stepped in to test the mic and found it working again, prompting younger sister Sasha to shout "Go Malia". The event is "one of the greatest White House traditions," the President said, after finding his voice, "one that reminds us that this is the people's house." Michelle Obama added: "Our goal today is just to have fun."

A crowd of children were wrapped up against the spring chill, and hundreds of them scurried to take part in the egg-rolling competition – an annual fixture in the White House grounds since the 19th century. People once used to descend on Capitol Hill, outside Congress, but grumpy lawmakers got so distressed about the condition of the grass that they passed a law banning the practice. In 1878, President Rutherford Hayes invited children over to his place instead.

Three years ago, gay couples with children protested against the Bush administration's policies by making a public display of attendance; this time, the Obamas had specifically invited gay couples. And there were other innovations – tickets were handed out via the internet, throwing open the event to people far from the capital. This year's souvenir egg was designed to be environmentally friendly, using vegetable oil-based ink and wood from "sustainably managed forests".

Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie blasted out the national anthem, and as she leaned in to get a congratulatory hug from the President, reporters heard her telling him to "come to my show".

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