At the 2008 Al Smith Dinner Charity Dinner, President Barack Obama wowed the audience while John McCain looked like a candidate on his way to defeat. Four years later, on Thursday, at the same white-tie charity event in which presidential candidates give self-deprecating speeches to raise money for charity, Mitt Romney gave off the feel of a candidate on his way to victory while Obama looked like a candidate preoccupied by bad internal poll numbers.
Romney’s presentation was funny and graceful. He poked fun at his wealth and teetotaling as well at Obama and the mainstream media gathered before him. Romney looked like someone poised to become the country’s next president. And even in stretch-run of a brutal campaign, Romney found the time to put effort and thought into his speech. He was prepared, unlike Obama who seemed like he just mailed in his appearance and did not give it much thought. Here are some of Romney’s best lines and moments.
On the media:
Romney sarcastically asked, “what other safeguard do we have, besides the press?” After these words, Romney turned and looked straight at MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, who has been one of Romney’s harshest critics, in what was a lighthearted moment.
He then said:
…now I never suggest that the — that the press is biased. I recognize that they have their job to do, and I have my job to do. My job is to lay out a positive vision for the future of the country, and their job is to make sure no one else finds out about it.
Let’s just say that some in the media have a certain way of — of looking at things. When suddenly I — I pulled ahead in some of the major polls, what was the headline? “Polls Show Obama Leading from Behind.”
And I’ve already seen early reports from tonight’s dinner, headline; “Obama Embraced by Catholics. Romney Dines with Rich People.”
On Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comments:
Your kind hospitality here tonight gives me a chance to convey my deep and long held respect for the Catholic church. I have special admiration for the Apostle St. Peter, to whom it is said, “Upon this rock, I will build my church.” The story is all the more inspiring when you consider that he had so many skeptics and scoffers at the time who were heard to say, “If you’ve got a church, you didn’t build that.”
On Obama’s “Big Bird” ads and the country’s debt:
And by the way in — in the spirit of Sesame Street, the president’s remarks tonight are brought to you but the letter ‘O’ and the number $16 trillion.
On Obama’s tendency to blame everything on his predecessor, George W. Bush:
Of course the president has put his own stamp on relations with the church. There have been some awkward moments. Like when the president pulled Pope Benedict aside to share some advice on how to deal with his critics. He said, “Look Holy Father, whatever the problem is, just blame it on Pope John Paul II.”
Romney also said he and Obama “were chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night never happened,” referring to Tuesday’s contentious town hall debate. Romney said after the debate, “it’s taken New York’s highest spiritual authority to get us back on our best behavior.”
Romney also said he was hoping Obama “would bring Joe Biden along this evening, because he’ll laugh at anything” and that Biden’s disastrous debate performance has helped him so much that he “heard from the Federal Election Commission, from now on whenever he appears on TV there’s a recording of me afterwards that says, ‘I’m Mitt Romney, and I approved this message.'”
Romney also said “we’re down to the final months of the president’s term” and “as President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and refinery, you have to wonder what he’s thinking: ‘So little time, so much to redistribute.'”
And don’t be surprised if the president mentions this evening the monthly jobs report where there was a slight improvement in the numbers. He knows how to seize the moment, this president. And already has a compelling new campaign slogan, “You’re better off now than you were four weeks ago.”
He was self-deprecating about his wealth and teetotaling:
On the white-tie dinner, Romney said, “it’s nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.”
And he made many funny references to his abstention from alcohol:
You know, with or without all the dignitaries that are here, the Al Smith dinner surely lives up to its billing. Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it’s just to be the designated driver.
He also said he prepared for the debates by refraining “from alcohol for 65 years before the debate” and then said this:
Of course this isn’t a night for serious politics, and it was especially nice to see President Obama and Cardinal Dolan sharing the dais despite their differences. I’m sure the cardinal has no hard feelings, and we might get an indication of that during dinner to see if the president’s wine turns into water.
Or for that matter, whether my water turns into wine.
Romney also said Obama “has found a way to take the sting out of the Obamacare mandates for the church. From now on, they’re going to be in Latin.”
In closing, Romney gracefully praised Obama’s family and all those involved with the charity dinner
We have very fundamental and sound principles that guide both the president and me. He — he and I, of course, both feel the pressures and tensions of a — of a close contest. It would be easy to let a healthy competition give way to the person on the penny, but fortunately we don’t carry the burden of — of disliking one another.
Our president has had some very fine and gracious moments. Don’t tell anyone I said so, but our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud.
In our country, you can oppose someone in politics and make a confident case against their policies without any ill will and that’s how it is for me. There’s more to life than politics.
You answer with calm and willing hearts and service to the poor and care for the sick, in defense and 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.