Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Dinner

Tonight, New York's Timothy Cardinal Dolan will host the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a grand fundraiser for Catholic Charities held every year since 1945 on the third Thursday in October. With one exception, every President since Eisenhower has spoken at the Al Smith Dinner. And, since 1960, it has often featured a joint appearance by the two major-party presidential candidates. As such it has become a hallowed tradition for both Church and State and an expression of the bi-partisan civility and mutual respect which a successful democracy requires.

Kennedy and Nixon started the tradition of attending together in 1960 (photo). Since then, the dinner has featured Carter and Ford in 1976, Carter and Reagan in 1980, Dukakis and Bush in 1988, Gore and Bush in 2000, Obama and McCain in 2008, and Obama and Romney in 2012, all of whom gave humorous speeches.. In 2000, for example, George W. Bush famously said, "This is an impressive crowd. The haves and the have-mores." 

Looking at the photograph of Kennedy and Nixon flanking Francis Cardinal Spellman at the 1960 dinner, one can only lament the deterioration of American political culture in the intervening decades. Tonight, Cardinal Dolan and a ballroom full of "the haves and the have-mores" will host this year's two candidates - one day after the last of three "debates" that have dramatically exemplified the opposite of that bi-partisan civility and mutual respect which a successful democracy requires. All the more reason, therefore, to thank Cardinal Dolan for continuing this fine Catholic and civic tradition! One would only wish that more comparably prominent religious figures would emulate his expansive approach.

The humor expected of the candidates' remarks at the Al Smith Dinner is in service of a larger good - humor being one way we lower tension and find common ground. But humor need not preclude seriousness about the issues at stake, nor need seriousness about the issues at stake inspire incivility. In this Senator John F. Kennedy's both humorous and serious comments as a candidate at the 1960 Al Smith Dinner are instructive. It was a short speech, but I recommend it. 

To read it, go to

No comments:

Post a Comment