October 21, 2016 Leave a Comment
The Al Smith Dinner is an annual fundraiser for Catholic charities in honor of Alfred E. Smith, the first Catholic to run for president. In election years, the tradition is for the presidential candidates to attend and engage in some light-hearted, self-deprecating banter. As Barack Obama said during his remarks at the 2008 dinner, “You know, the fact that each — each October in the closing weeks of a hard-fought campaign, people of all political persuasions can come to this dinner and share a meal in honor of the work of this foundation underscores the reality that, no matter what differences or divisions or arguments we are having right now, we ultimately belong to something bigger and more lasting than a political party. We belong to a community. We share a country. We are all children of God.”
Trump didn’t understand that. Perhaps Trump is incapable of understanding that. His idea of self-deprecating is to compare himself to Jesus. Seriously.
“I do recognize that I come into this event with a little bit of an advantage. I know that so many of you in the archdiocese already have a place in your heart for a guy who started out as a carpenter working for his father. I was a carpenter working for mine.”
The closest he actually came to self-deprecating — or to any self-awareness — was when he said this: “You know, they say when you do this kind of an event you always start out with a self-deprecating joke. Some people think this would be tough for me, but the truth is … I’m actually a modest person. Very modest. It’s true. In fact many people tell me that modesty is perhaps my best quality. Even better than my temperament.”
Yes, for Donald Trump, the closest he can come to self-deprecating is to say nice things about himself that everyone knows he probably actually believes — but at least understands that others will find comical.
After that, he pivoted directly into vicious, barely funny attacks on Hillary Clinton, including several that earned him loud boos from the crowd. The first boos came when he repeated debunked lies about her getting kicked off the Watergate commission. Then he made the astonishing and unsupported claim that she had to pretend not to hate Catholics. It was a crude, immature performance from a crude, immature man.
Compare that to Barack Obama’s 2008 appearance at the dinner. Here’s how he began:
I was thrilled to get this invitation, and I feel right at home here, because it’s often been said that I share the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Newman.
But I have to say tonight’s venue isn’t really what I’m used to. I was originally told we’d be able to move this outdoors to Yankee stadium. And can somebody tell me what happened to the Greek columns that I requested?
I do love the Waldorf Astoria, though. You know, I hear that from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian Tea Room. It is an honor to be here with Al Smith. I obviously never knew your great-grandfather, but from everything that Senator McCain has told me, the two of them had a great time together before prohibition. So wonderful stories.
The mayor of this great city, Michael Bloomberg, is here. The mayor recently announced some news — made some news by announcing he’s going to be rewriting the rules and running for a third term, which caused Bill Clinton to say, “You can do that?”
The president’s better half, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is also here. I’m glad to see you made it, Hillary. I’m glad to see that you made it, because I heard Chuck Schumer actually try to tell you that we really did move this event to Yankee Stadium.
But I’ll tell you all from personal experience Hillary Clinton is one of the toughest and most formidable presidential candidates in history. She has broken barriers. She’s inspired millions. She is the — she is the primary reason I have all this gray in my hair now.
He reserved the sharpest digs for himself, got in small digs at Sarah Palin and John McCain, then a couple more at members of his own party. He then went on to praise his primary opponent and, in the process, take another jab at himself.
That’s how you do it. He didn’t lay off McCain completely, but his attacks were proportional and funny, like a dig about how the housing crisis “has been eight times harder on John McCain” (who owns a lot of homes). And it probably won’t surprise you to find that the one moment that came closest to self-deprecating for Trump echoed, though didn’t plagiarize, something Obama said about himself, recognizing the criticism that he thought, perhaps a bit too highly of himself: “If I had to name my greatest strength, I guess it would be my humility. Greatest weakness, it’s possible that I’m a little too awesome.”
Hillary, stepping up after Trump, got in her digs at him. Probably more than normally fly at such an event. I wonder if she had two versions of her comments prepared — one for the off-chance that Trump managed to behave in a remotely dignified manner and the one she read if he did what his character demanded. But she still took many shots at herself, talking about taking a break from her rigorous nap schedule, describing tuxes as “formal pantsuits,” made fun of her reputation as boring and her failure to get health care reform through in the early 1990s.
Trump proved — once more — that he has neither the character, the temperament, the grace — or the sense of humor — needed to be president.