What I heard at the Al Smith Dinner


I watched Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton talk at the Al Smith Dinner, watching on C-Span not from the Waldorf Astoria. You can read all kinds of other analysis and opinion about the event, but I wanted to draw your attention to what I haven’t seen written about much.

Clinton’s address, specifically, the last four minutes of it, I think, was one of the most effective political speeches I’ve heard throughout this seemingly endless campaign. As she began her conclusion, I thought it was going to be another poke at Trump’s immigration plans, but I was wrong. This part of her message was well honed for her immediate audience, yet it also spoke to larger themes that many of us wished the campaign could have addressed: pride in what is best in our American heritage, praise for the strength found in unity and a plea for disparate groups to work for common goals.

Reading Clinton’s words from last night today on a page, they don’t appear so spectacular, and I realized, as I read them, how spot on was her presence and delivery. She was serious, sincere and in charge. I have embedded video here so you can see the delivery for yourself.

Skip over the early and go right to about 14:50 on the video. She makes one last joke and then says,

But there is nothing funny about the stakes in this election. In the end what makes this dinner important is not the jokes we tell but the legacy we carry forward. It is often easy to forget how far this country has come, and there are a lot of people in this room tonight who themselves, or their parents or grandparents came here as immigrants, made a life for yourselves took advantage of the American dream and the greatest system that has ever been created in the history of the world to unleash the individual talents, energy and ambition of every one willing to work hard.

When I think about what Al Smith went through, it’s important to reflect just how groundbreaking it was for him, a Catholic, to be my party’s nominee for president. Don’t forget, school boards sent home letters with children saying that if Al Smith was elected president you will not be allowed to have or read a bible. Voters were told that he would annul Protestant marriages. And I saw a story recently that said people even claimed that the Holland Tunnel was a secret passage between Rome and America to help the pope rule our country.

Those appeals, appeals to fear and division, can cause us to treat each other as the other. Rhetoric like that makes it harder for us to see each other, to respect each other, to listen to each other and certainly a lot harder to love our neighbor as yourself. I believe that how we treat each others is the highest expressions of faith and service.

Now I’m not Catholic, I’m Methodist, but one of the things we share is the belief that to achieve salvation we need both faith and good works. And you certainly don’t need to be Catholic to be inspired by the humility and heart of the Holy Father, Pope Francis. Or to embrace his message. His message about rejecting a mindset of hostility, his calls to reduce inequality, his warnings about climate change, his appeal that we build bridges, not walls.

Now as you may know, my running mate, Tim [Kaine], is Catholic and went to Jesuit schools, and one of the things he and I have talked about is this idea from the Jesuits of the magis, the more, the better. We need to get better at finding ways to disagree on matters of policy while agreeing on questions of decency and civility. How we talk to each other, treat each other, respect each other.

So I’ve taken this concept of magis to heart in this campaign, as best as one can in the daily heat, the back and forth of a presidential campaign, to ask how we can do more for each other, and better for each other. Because I believe that for each of us, our greatest monument on this earth won’t be what we build, but the lives we touch.

And that is ultimately what this dinner is all about. And it’s why it’s been such a great honor to join you all again. Thank you.




Reblogged: National Catholic Reporter 

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