NEW YORK (RNS) This has been an unconventional election by almost any measure, with both candidates garnering record high negatives from the voters and political newcomer Donald Trump — a real estate and casino mogul — lowering the bar on almost every previous standard of acceptable campaign rhetoric.
But the Catholic Church likes nothing better than to stick with tradition, and so Trump, the Republican nominee, and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, will be headlining the glitzy Al Smith Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan next month to trade jokes (hopefully) rather than barbs in a custom that goes back more than 70 years.
“The presidential nominees will share the dais with Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, and they will deliver the evening’s speeches in the spirit of collegiality and good-humor that has become a hallmark of the gala,”said a statement issued Tuesday (Sept. 27) by the New York Archdiocese and the foundation that runs the event.
The Oct. 20 dinner “honors a cause that transcends the polarizing political rhetoric of the day and exemplifies the vision of Gov. Alfred E. Smith, known as ‘The Happy Warrior’ for his ability to maintain his positive outlook even as he tackled the pressing social issues of his day,” the statement said.
The dinner’s namesake was the New York governor who in 1928 became the first Catholic nominee for president. Smith was known as a reformer and “man for the people,” but anti-Catholicism was still so virulent at the time and the pre-Depression economy of the 1920s roaring so fiercely that the Democrat was trounced by Republican Herbert Hoover.
A charitable foundation that takes his name was launched in 1946, two years after Smith’s death, and over the years its annual dinner has become “a ritual of American politics,” as historian Theodore H. White put it, where candidates of opposing parties would come together for a few hours of comic relief at the height of an intense campaign battle.