For one night, President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney took a break from mercilessly attacking one another on the campaign trail to attend the white-tie Al Smith Dinner – a fundraiser at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria that honors former NY Governor Al Smith and raises money for Catholic charities. In a mix of half self-deprecating humor and half lighthearted jabs at the other candidate, both men did their best to show the softer side of the men behind the campaigns. The result was truly quite entertaining.
For what its worth, I’d trade any debate for one of these; and I’d throw in a VP debate for good measure. Sure, they had talented writers penning their jokes; but delivery is every bit as important as the punchline. And these two were certainly up to the task.
I have to admit too that my expectations were somewhat low for Governor Romney - even after having been primed by someone who’d already watched that “he was really funny.” I’ve seen President Obama in this kind of setting before and he’s pretty good at delivering a joke. Governing… not so much. Joke telling… he typically gets an A. But on this night, it was Governor Romney that broke the curve.
First, two good lines from the President before we move on to the good stuff…
“In less than three weeks voters in states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida will decide this incredibly important election, which begs the question: What are we doing here?”
“Of course, the economy is on everybody’s minds,” Obama later said. “The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since I took office. … I don’t have a joke here, I just thought it would be useful to remind everybody that the unemployment rate is at the lowest it’s been since I took office.”
Now for the highlights from Governor Romney…
“Now Al, you were right, a campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes. We — blue jeans in the morning perhaps, suits for a lunch fundraiser, sport coat for dinner, but it’s nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.”
“In the spirit of Sesame Street, tonight’s remarks are brought to you by the letter “O” and the number “16 trillion.”
“I was hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along, because he’ll laugh at anything.”
“Of course we’re down to the final months of the president’s term, as presidents… (LAUGHTER) “I’ve already seen early reports from tonight’s dinner,” Romney said. “Headline: Obama Embraced by Catholics, Romney Dines with Rich People.”
“…as President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and refinery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute.”
“…now I never suggest that the — that the press is biased. I recognize that they have their job to do, and I have my job to do. My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country, and their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it.”
“Let’s just say that some in the media have a certain way of — of looking at things. When suddenly I — I pulled ahead in some of the major polls, what was the headline? “Polls Show Obama Leading from Behind.” And I’ve already seen early reports from tonight’s dinner, headline; “Obama Embraced by Catholics. Romney Dines with Rich People.”
“Your kind hospitality here tonight gives me a chance to convey my deep and long held respect for the Catholic church. I have special admiration for the Apostle St. Peter, to whom it is said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” The story is all the more inspiring when you consider that he had so many skeptics and scoffers at the time who were heard to say, “If you’ve got a church, you didn’t build that.”