I didn’t even know last night was the night of the Al Smith Dinner, with which, of course, I am familiar, as the Washington and Catholic Church insider that I am. But fate set me down in front of Rachel Maddow at just the right time, so I was in virtual attendance. I’ve seen them before, watched the tapes. The first one, with Peter presiding, was a staid affair. Since then, however, a tradition has developed: from the two candidates jokes all around, with many targets, including their opponent, none greater than themselves in a show of gracious self-deprecating humor. A history of videos is out there. You can check me on this.
What you will see in the videos below is that both Mitt Romney and President Obama were very funny. Pros wrote their lines, and despite whatever carping might come from pros, they delivered them well and got good laughs. A certain kind of Obama partisan will refuse to acknowledge the quality of Romney’s performance, but that partisan also thought Obama did well in the first debate. Romney was energetic and forceful, commanding and convincing, and with his silver temples, he damn well looks like a president – circa 1928, a better looking Herbert Hoover. His partisans are very happy about last night. For note something: Obama’s performance fits the description I gave above. Romney’s does not.
Most of the news accounts this morning cluelessly miss the difference, in the boilerplate they deliver, between the two performances or between this year and past years. A few do not. They note that Romney delivered what is better termed a “roast” of the President.
This is in line with Romney’s performance in the two debates, highly charged and energetic, confident and commanding – bullying and disrespectful. Some have chosen to liken it to Romney’s true career as a corporate boardroom chief, and I think that an accurate take. Everything in Romney’s manner – beneath the unctuous Mormon piety – bespeaks a world and life of white male privilege within a culture that merges jock bullying with corporate conquest. I think, too, that Romney’s manner from the first debate on, and bolstered by the success of the first debate, is a purposeful tactic not only to enhance his commanding image, but to capitalize on perceptions of Obama’s slower, more deliberate manner and gentlemanly demeanor as weakness. Just as Obama partisans could not see his failure in the first debate, Obama haters cannot see the strength in a man who has, as they say, out-Bushed Bush in prosecuting the war on terror.
Romney supporters have already, and will, dismiss in the same aggressive and boorish manner as their standard bearer, any suggestion that Romney went over a line last night in the breadth and cutting quality of a sustained mockery of the President that was not delivered back. They will think it only proves his strength and Obama’s weakness. People always tell themselves they are right in their wrongness, especially if they win. Beware if Romney wins. Watch for yourselves.