New York, N.Y. — I’m looking around this morning and the Al Smith dinner is less of a news story than it might have been — than it frequently is — and I believe this is why: It was exactly what the cardinal had hoped it would be, and that’s not all that sexy a news story. It was civil. During a week when the candidates appeared to display a genuine dislike for each other, it may have been particularly healthy to hear Romney and Obama show respect for each other as men, fathers, husbands.
Religion is a good, now isn’t it? Having pastors have us take time outs for reflection and, yes, even a laugh at ourselves could be a healthy first step in living the examined life individually and collectively.
The elephant in the room at the Waldorf last night — the fact that the Archdiocese of New York is suing the Obama administration over the abortion-drug, sterilization, contraception mandate — was touched upon: Mitt Romney referred to an awkwardness, offering that the president would try to quell the controversy by putting the mandate in Latin — which is a bit of a too-true-to-life joke when you consider that the strategy of the administration on this issue has been to continually confuse . . . and mislead. And yet, as Cardinal Dolan told NRO exclusively during the Republican convention, you can still have a meal — and yes, even laugh — with fellow human beings, even as we are in court.
Even, after, frankly, you’ve been lied to and about.
Now just because we are having a meal — and there were all political types at the Al Smith dinner, this was clear to anyone standing on a line the expanse of the Waldorf to get in — does not mean that we are endorsing anything or anyone in particular other than the Catholic charities the Al Smith Foundation dinner raises money for. Voting is another matter. And, in raising money for charities that are threatened by the crippling noncompliance fines inherent in the HHS mandate, the cardinal didn’t confuse the issue by having a meal with the two most prominent political figures in the country.
After dinner, the mayor of New York casually observed that the room was probably 60/40 leaning Romney. That’s something for a high-priced Manhattan dinner at the Waldorf. But it was unmistakable, in particular, when Governor Romney said this:
At the Al Smith Foundation and the Archdiocese of New York, you show this in the work you do, in causes that run deeper than allegiance to party or to any contest at the moment. No matter which way the political winds are blowing, what work goes on, day in day out by this organization and you. You answer with calm and willing hearts and service to the poor and care for the sick, in defense [of] the rights of conscience and in solidarity with the innocent child waiting to be born. You strive to bring God’s love and every — in every life.
“In defense [of] the rights of conscience and in solidarity with the innocent child waiting to be born“ – this got applause. And that may have said it all about the audience and about uniting principles among Catholics.
Cardinal Dolan, for his part, echoed that, talking about our responsibilities to those who would be forgotten. And not letting the night go by without reminding us of our duty to protect the religious freedom of all Americans.
President Obama had a few bipartisan laugh lines about snoozing during the first debate, especially, but he seemed uncomfortable. As he would. As he should. Not only does the dinner represent an audience he has attacked the rights of — he is not a sure thing even with the crowd he claimed to be doing it for: women, whom Democrats lost in the 2010 midterm elections. Barack Obama looked and sounded like a man who was not happy with the numbers his campaign is sharing with him.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama poked some fun at each other and themselves and by doing so reminded us that we live in a pretty special country. May we continue to.