Remarks at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City
Thank you. [applause] Thank you. [applause] Thank you. Thank you so much. Your Eminence Cardinal Dolan, Mr. president, Governor Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer, Al and Ann Smith, thank you for your invitation. Thank you for your extraordinary warm welcome. Ann and I appreciate your friendship very, very much. Thank you. [applause]
Now, AL, you are right. A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes. We — blue jeans in the morning perhaps, a suit for a lunch fundraise, sport coat for dinner. But it's nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house. [laughter and applause] I'm glad to be able to join in this venerable tradition. Of course, I'm pleased that the president's here. We were chatting pleasantly this evening as if Tuesday night never happened. [laughter]
And I credit that of course to the cardinal. It's taken New York's highest spiritual authority to get us back on our best behavior. I was actually hoping the president would bring Joe Biden along this evening because he'll laugh at anything. [laughter and applause] 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. [laughter]
I'm pleased to once again have the chance to see Governor Cuomo who's already being talked about for higher office — a very impressive fellow. But he may be getting a little ahead of himself. I mean, let me get this straight. The man has put in one term as a governor, he has a father who happened to be a governor and he thinks that's enough to run for president. [laughter and applause] Of course, we're down to the final months of the president's term. As presidents — [laughter].
As President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room, with everyone in white tie and finery, you have to wonder what he's thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute. [laughter and applause] 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. [laughter] 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. [laughter and applause]
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's 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. [laughter]
Of course, only 19 days to go until the finish line, campaign full of surprises. The debates are very exciting. Just the other night we had a very fun debate. Candy Crowley was there and was happy to welcome us. But people seem to be very curious as to how we prepare for the debates. Let me tell you what I do. First, refrain from alcohol for 65 years before the debate. [laughter] Second, find the biggest available straw man and then just mercilessly attack it. Big Bird didn't even see it coming. [laughter]
And by the way, in the spirit of Sesame Street, the president's remarks tonight are brought to you by the letter O and the number 16 trillion. [laughter] Campaigns can be grueling, exhausting. President Obama and I are each very lucky to have one person who's always in our corner, someone who we can lean on and someone who's a comforting presence without whom we wouldn't be able to go another day. I have my beautiful Ann. He has Bill Clinton. [laughter]
We got a big dose of the Biden charm last week, I'll tell you that, in his debate with Paul Ryan. I'm not sure that all that carrying on had quite the effect that Joe intended because afterwards I heard from the Federal Election Commission. From now on, whenever he appears on TV, there's a recording immediately afterwards that says: I'm Mitt Romney and I approved this message. [laughter] Of course, rules of fairness have to be enforced because what other safeguard do we have besides the press, and — (laughter, applause).
Now, I'd never suggest that the press is biased. I recognize 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. [laughter and applause] Let's just say that some in the media have a certain way of looking at things. When suddenly I pulled ahead in some of the major polls, what was the headline? Polls show Obama leading from behind. [laughter] And I've already seen early reports from tonight's dinner. Headline: Obama embraced by Catholics. Romney dines with rich people. [laughter and applause]
Of course, the president has put his own stamp on relations with the church. There've 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. [laughter] Of course, the president 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. [laughter]
We have very fundamental and sound principles that guide both the president and me. He and I of course feel the pressures and tensions of a close contest. It'd be easy to let a healthy competition give way to the personal and the petty. But fortunately, we don't carry the burden of disliking one another. Our president has had some very fine and gracious moments. Don't tell him when I said so but our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud. You can oppose — [applause].
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 of the moment.
No matter which way the political winds are blowing, what work goes on day in and day out by this organization and you, you answer with calm and with wiling hearts, in service to the poor, in care for the sick, in defense of the rights of conscience and in solidarity with the innocent child waiting to be born. You strive to bring God's love into every life. [applause]
I don't presume to have all your support and on a night like this I'm certainly not going to 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. God bless you all and God bless the United States of America. Thank you. [applause]
Mitt Romney, Remarks at the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/315837