Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will once again meet 
at the Al Smith dinner in New York next week.
Next Thursday, October 18, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will call a brief cease-fire in their war for the White House.  They will make their way to New York for the annual Al Smith dinner and yuk it up with Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

The dinner is technically a fundraiser for Catholic Charities, and the 2008 dinner raised nearly $4 million.

Or, as Romney refers to $4 million, “Tip money.”

That’s right, you can expect all sorts of jokes aimed at Romney and Obama that night.

Traditionally, the candidates for president have appeared at the dinner right before the election.  This is a fine opportunity to remind people what a trailblazer Al Smith was, and the obstacles he faced as the first Irish American and Roman Catholic from a major party to run for the White House in 1928.

It’s also a convenient reminder that the Archbishop of New York is one of the few people in America who can invite the two presidential candidates to dinner and expect them to show up.

But mainly, this is an opportunity for the candidates to flex their funny bones.

Given the state of America, however, one can imagine nervous speechwriters chewing on pencils, trying to strike the right balance between funny and wildly inappropriate.

For example, imagine Romney standing up and at the podium, offering a standard greeting, before adding, “And if anyone in the room needs an abortion, please speak to the president before you leave tonight.”

Yes, it’s going to be hard to avoid tensions between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church.  For example, Dolan made it clear he was willing to go to both the Republican and Democratic conventions back in the summer, but only the Republicans took Dolan up on the offer.

Which might lead Dolan to quip, “Nice to see you, Mr. President.  Would you like me to leave now?”

Or,“Mr. President, tonight I kind of wish I was speaking to an empty chair.”

Or, “If anyone needs a gay marriage ceremony, please speak to the president.”

In 1996 and 2004 the candidates were not invited to the dinner, and most people believe these non-invites were spurred largely by Democratic support for abortion and other social issues.

And you can bet this year’s dinner will have an awkward moment or two.  The New York Archdiocese, after all, is one of many organizations currently suing the Obama administration in a fight over whether or not contraception should be made available to employees through health plans.

Obama, of course, could ease this awkward moment.  With sight gags, for example.

Blow up a condom like a balloon.  Or toss birth control pills at the crowd.

But even then some people probably wouldn’t laugh.  As it is, over 2,000 people have signed a petition at to voice their opposition to Obama’s presence.

Catholics, according to the protest organizer, “felt betrayed” by the invitation to Obama. “They felt like the cardinal placed a knife in their back. They felt let down and disappointed over this apparent show of weak leadership.”

Not that Romneyis going to be let off easy.Dolan may introduce the Republican candidate by saying, “Now let’s make sure we make Mitt Romney feel welcome.  After all, he is a member of a strange religious cult.  And I don’t mean go-into-a-box-and-whisper-to-a-priest-to-forgive-all-your-sins crazy.  Or look-the-other-way-when-priests-sexually-abuse-boys crazy.  I mean real crazy!”

Then there’s the uncomfortable fact that the whole point of fundraising for charity might be a little lost on Romney.

“Why in God’s name are we raising money for poor people?” Romney may ask.  “I thought that fine Irish writer Jonathan Swift solved the whole poor people problem two centuries ago when he wrote A Modest Proposal.  You can be sure that in a Romney administration I will take that proposal and it will be a whole lot more than modest!”

Yes, given the state of the world, it will be good to laugh for an evening.  It might make us feel better when we break down in tears and realize the joke’s on us.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at or [email protected])