A Lighthearted Break from the Intense American Political Scene Leading Up to Election 2012

publication date: Oct 19, 2012

The two Presidential candidates took a break from the campaign trail and debates to give their comedy bits (videos below) at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, the history of which is below. Each one is about 10 minutes long and well worth watching:

"Although both his state and his country generously honored Alfred E. Smith after his death in 1944, the most unusual and notable memorial to him has been an ongoing series of black-tie dinners. Sponsored by the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, these annual fêtes were initiated by then-Archbishop (later Cardinal) Francis J. Spellman of the Archdiocese of New York in 1945. Since that time the Foundation has raised millions of dollars for healthcare causes.

Cardinal Spellman, capitalizing on the fact that Governor Smith died in the month of October (the peak of election season), used the dinner to remind later generations of Smith's extraordinary public career and unique role in political history by securing the participation of the leading political figures of those later generations. Over the years, the dinner has attracted the cream of modern American politics: the list of speakers and attendees reads like a who's who of the political landscape.

In the early years of the dinner's existence, this event might have been the only time some of these candidates would share a dais during the entire campaign. By 1960 the Al Smith dinner had truly reached its zenith as "a ritual of American politics," in the words of Theodore H. White. Many of past dinners have generated front-page news items as a result of the program, i.e. joint appearances of opposing presidential nominees.

While commendatory references to Smith and his actions were once common, by chance or by design, many of the addresses at later dinners have taken on a lighter tone. Indeed, the occasion has evolved into something of an opportunity for speakers - particularly ones whose mien is typically quite serious - to show, through quips and slightly irreverent humor, that they can poke fun at a political issue, an opponent, or themselves. In 1988, Michael S. Dukakis solemnly declared, "I've... been told that I lack passion. But that doesn't affect me one way or the other. Some people say I am arrogant, but I know better than that." In the days before Saturday Night Live, the Al Smith dinner served as a kind of "proving ground for the candidate as entertainer," as one reporter described it.

Today the dinner remains a true phenomenon - a living memorial to an uncommon public figure, best known as the first Roman Catholic presidential candidate, who died more than six decades ago. Doubtless the dinner's honoree would be deeply gratified that he is being remembered each year in this fashion. He would be even more gratified to know that the dinner commemorating him and his unique role in American politics has contributed millions of dollars for charitable endeavors in the city he loved so much."

The seemingly endless bickering between the Republicans and Democrats in Congress and elsewhere in America may seem contentious but we've got nothing on the Taiwanese Parliament where physical confrontations, food fights, water fights and hair pulling are nearly routine:


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Eric Tyson is the only best-selling personal finance author who has an extensive background as an hourly-based financial advisor and who does not accept speaking fees, endorsement deals or fees of any type from companies in the financial services industry or product or service providers recommended in his articles, books and his publications.