Barack Obama and Mitt Romney appeared tonight at the Al Smith Dinner and gave the usual humorous speeches. A few observations:
1. Romney the Standup Comic-I was surprised at how well Romney did. Comedy and Mitt Romney would seem to be mutually exclusive concepts, but he had good timing and delivered an effective series of jokes. Funniest joke: A reference to the Cardinal, because of Obama’s troubles with the Church, turning Obama’s wine into water.
2. Flat Obama-Four years ago I praised Obama’s speech at the Al Smith dinner as being hilarious. Not this year. Most of his jokes fell flat and he seemed to be going through the motions. Funniest joke: He said at one point that for the third debate he was going to train as he did for the first debate. Pause. He then said that he was just kidding, that he only wanted to make Axelrod sweat.
3. These Guys Really Hate Each Other-Both Romney and Obama at the end of their speeches gave unfelt praise to the other. Their other comments dripped venom for their opponent, especially Romney’s comments. No love lost here at all.
4. Romney on the Attack-The usual humor at an Al Smith dinner is self-depracatory. Romney had a bit of this but most of his humorous comments were fairly hard hitting attacks against Obama.
5. The War on the Church-Romney was not shy in mentioning Obama’s attacks on the Church. He joked that Obama has found a way to soften the attitude of the Church to the HHS Mandate: the rules will be in Latin.
6. Debates-Lots of debate references by both men, a tribute to how the debates have dominated this campaign.
7. Contrasts-Romney has 14 years on Obama, yet he seemed fresh and alert tonight while Obama struck me as tired. The office of the Presidency does age the occupant, that and heading a campaign that is going south.
8. Dolan-Cardinal Dolan has come under criticism for inviting Obama to the dinner. He did him no favors. Romney hit Obama hard in regard to Obama’s attacks against the Church, just as I suspect Dolan was certain would happen. Just 19 days from the election, I wager that Obama would have avoided the dinner tonight if he could have without sustaining political damage.
9. THE CHURCH-Lenny Bruce, foul-mouthed comic of genius and pathetic junky, used to say the Catholic Church is what people always mean when they say the Church. The Al Smith Dinner underlines that observation.
10. America-I think it says something good about this country that in the midst of a heated election the two candidates can sit down, separated only by a Cardinal, and break bread together.