12 Takes on the Al Smith DinnerPosted: October 23, 2016
Hearing all these points about The Al Smith Dinner.
There is something grotesque about a white-tie banquet with the wealthy and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team. On the flip side, there’s something great about the wealth and powerful laughing about how they’re all on the same team if the team has some common, positive values.
The Al Smith Foundation raises money for the sick, the poor, and the orphans of New York. It honors a great, cheerful, positive public figure who rose up from poverty to run for president despite religious prejudice.
The dinner is an old-fashioned truce. Swallowing the noxious flavor of eating with your opponent is how societies can function and remain peaceful.
History offers many stories about how deeply fucked up things get when someone violates the tradition of a ceremonial truce:
People who jockey for political power should have to sit there and be made to at least pretend to be humble.
IMO this is a great tradition even if only for giving us this wonderful gif of Mitt Romney ironing himself.
Through a friend from my Catholic childhood, I got to go and sit up in the rafters a couple times. McCain, who must’ve known he was about to lose, gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.
Obama smashed too, of course.
Perhaps the two funniest candidates in American history?
Made it to the Romney/Obama one as well.
I remember a guy younger than me in the crowd was pumped, felt sure Romney was gonna win.
Watched this year’s on C-Span. Man, it was gnarly. Here are some takes:
- The #1 thing holding Donald Trump back is that he’s too sensitive. If he had a thicker skin, if he could laugh off attacks on himself, believe he could’ve won. Hillary was right about the “baited with a tweet” thing. If he had one ounce of Reagan’s ability to laugh something off Trump could’ve pulled it off.
- Al Smith’s nickname was The Happy Warrior.
Which candidate can be said to be more Happy Warrior? Thought Hillary did a good job of Happy Warrioring at the second debate, under very tough conditions:
and it worked for her!
- Much of the preliminary business of the Al Smith Dinner is talking about how much money has been raised for charity. As you listen to that, it’s hard not to be revolted by Trump’s total scumminess on charity. My perception was the room grew angrier and angrier at Trump as they heard this, and so were primed against him by the time he got up there. A politician is one thing, but a rich guy who gives nothing to charity? That sucks. That’s the complete opposite of the values of this dinner.
- For someone on the verge of achieving a lifelong dream she’s worked impossibly hard for, Hillary seems miserable. What is the lesson there? Is it campaign fatigue and going to bed every night with a knot in the pit of her stomach? Is it the regular reminders that a lot of people, probably a majority, just kind of don’t like her? There’s something real devil’s bargainy in the cruel twists that seem to meet Hillary’s ambitions.
(should admit I am 100% in the tank for Hillary. Even her soldiering on in the face of all this I admire. Will the rest of the media admit as much?)
- This event must be as close as possible to a pure nightmare for Donald. New York’s elites laughing and booing at him. In front of him and behind his back. Read anything by or about Trump: his greatest fear/source of rage is being mocked by Manhattan.
This headline would’ve appeared to Trump if he summoned the vision serpent. We are caught in a snobs vs slob death spiral. A sharp commentator points out there was a real Nelson Muntz aspect to Donald at this dinner:
Is Nelson in his way a sympathetic character? Trump’s father was a nasty piece of work, has there ever been a bully who wasn’t bullied?
- Hillary had some great jokes but she is not great at comic delivery. Then again, who’s the best over-70 year old joke deliverer? (Gotta thank Medina for asking that one). My first picks: Mel Brooks or Bill Cosby.
- Katie Dunn’s parents would only let Al Smith marry their daughter when he promised he would never become a professional actor (per Caro’s The Power Broker, p. 117). In those days you went into politics because everybody liked you.
- There’s a lot terrible about the Catholic Church, but in my experience growing up around the Catholic church I saw a lot more attention to and help for the sick, the old, the poor, the dying, the disabled, the mentally ill and the homeless than I’ve seen outside of it.
In Al Smith’s day the Catholic Church provided a social welfare system for the poor and the unfortunate and the immigrant. Other churches did the same thing. Think how many hospitals are named after saints. As far as I understand it the Mormon church still does. The Catholic Church in America is in a managed decline.
What will fill the social welfare vacuum? Who will take care of the poor, the sick, the immigrant, they dying? Who should?
Sometimes it seems like the domestic political argument in America is between two answers: “the government” and “nobody/family/somebody’ll handle it/I don’t know but not the government.”
Bill Clinton and George Bush both succeeded at least in pretending to find happy compromises, “the third way,” “compassionate conservatism,” etc. For awhile I felt like Paul Ryan was doing a decent job of at least pretending, too. But man when Trump came along he went the sniveling way. Is he more dangerous and more vile than Trump?
- “They’re laughing at us” might be Donald’s campaign theme. From The Washington Post:
It’s a horrible feeling to be laughed at and it takes dignity to rise above it. Watching him at the Al Smith dinner, in a way I almost felt bad for him. If I could give Donald Trump advice I would tell him to relax and return to being a clown version of a rich guy. It was a good job and he was well-compensated. But he doesn’t listen.
In a way DT feels like a dangerous, bitter, vile version of this guy:
- Al Smith’s father was an immigrant. Not from Ireland though, from Italy. (Ferraro = blacksmith = smith). His mother’s parents were immigrants from Ireland. A frustrating thing about this election is we couldn’t have a serious talk about immigration. How much should we have? From where? Infinite? If not infinite how do we sort out who can come?