I had never heard of the Al Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner before the flak that arose over President Obama being invited this year.

According to Wiki the event is “is an annual white tie charity fundraiser for [local] Catholic charities, held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York on the third Thursday of October… in honor of former NY Governor Al Smith, the first Catholic presidential candidate. The first dinner was in 1945, the year after Al Smith’s death.”

Last night’s event raised $5 million.

Wiki goes on to explain the Al Smith Dinner’s foray into presidential abortion politics:

Since 1960 (when Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy were speakers), it has been a stop for the two main presidential candidates during several U.S. election years….

Since 1945, only two presidents have not spoken at the dinner: Harry Truman and Bill Clinton. Candidates have traditionally given humorous speeches poking fun at themselves and their opponents, making the event similar to a roast. It is generally the last event at which the two candidates share a stage before the election.

Since 1980 this custom has been affected by friction between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church over abortion. During the 1980 dinner Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter was booed. In 1984, Ronald Reagan spoke, but his opponent, Walter Mondale, opted out, saying he needed time to prepare for an upcoming presidential debate. Amy Sullivan suggests Mondale’s decision was motivated by “tensions between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party.”

In 1996 and 2004, the Archdiocese of New York chose not to invite the presidential candidates. In 1996, this was reportedly because Cardinal John Joseph O’Connor was angry at Democratic nominee Bill Clinton for vetoing a bill outlawing some late-term abortions…. In 2004… some speculated that the decision was due to Democratic nominee (and Roman Catholic) John Kerry’s pro-choice stance on abortion.

Which brings us to 2012, a year when Obama is not only viewed as pro-abortion but also hostile to the Catholic Church via Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

And so I understand the view that Obama should not have been invited to speak, that to give him the podium could be viewed as giving him tacit approval. I held that view before watching the speeches on t.v. and catching the vibe. I may still hold that view; I’m persuadable.

But there was something nice about seeing even abortion supporters, like Katie Couric and (Catholic) Chris Matthews [shown in the photo on either side of the speaker] being welcomed and shown compassion at a Christian gathering.

I remember mentioning to my pastor in 2008 that I became angry when spotting Obama bumper stickers in my church parking lot. He told me he liked seeing those bumper stickers, because they meant we were reaching the lost. (I don’t see any of those bumper stickers in the church parking lot this year, btw.)

Anyway, that was a long dissertation that brings me to the reason I started to write this post, and it is that Romney was hilarious. My husband doesn’t hoot and holler very often, but he was in shouting with laughter pretty much Romney’s whole speech, in which Romney shot some awesome zingers at Obama and Biden. Romney showed he has great comedic timing. He also mentioned pro-life hot buttons: the mandate, conscience protections, and the preborn (beginning at 8:34 on the video):

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.

At the Al Smith Foundation and the Archdiocese of New York, you show this in the work you do, in causes that run deeper than allegiance to party or to any contest at the moment. No matter which way the political winds are blowing, what work goes on, day in day out by this organization and you. 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.

(APPLAUSE)

I don’t presume to have all your support and on a night like this, I’m certainly not going ask for it, but you can be certain that in the great causes of compassion that you come together to embrace that I stand proudly with you as an ally and friend.

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I thought Obama was ok but not great…

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[Top photo via the New York Times; middle photo via New York Daily News; bottom photo via capitalnewyork.com]