Last Thursday, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were in the same room again, in a decidedly less combative mode than the debate stage
two days prior. They were giving a pair of joke-laden speeches at the 67th Annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York, wherein they poked fun not only at their opponent but at themselves.
The event had a strange feel to it. Even though it was nationally televised, it had an intimacy that most campaign events lack. It wasn't the hyperpublic display of the debates, or even the conventions. But it wasn't as private as, say, the donor dinner at which Romney made the number 47 famous. Only one thing seemed to be at stake here, and that was the comedic skill of each candidate.
I laughed more at Obama's speech than Romney's, but I think that was only because he made me feel less uneasy (since I'm progressive, it was easier to laugh at a joke about Romney's riches than Obama's 16 trillion-dollar debt). Obama was funny, but so was Romney. A lot funnier than I had expected.
Does this matter? Maybe a little. This was the first time I really began to entertain the idea of Mitt Romney as my president. For the past couple weeks, his poll numbers have been creeping up and erasing Obama's pre-debates lead, but until I watched Romney joke about tuxedos and Mormonism ("Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it's just to be the designated driver," he quipped), I hadn't vividly imagined what President Romney would be like. For the first time, he seemed human. He seemed like someone who could make fun of himself, a quality I consider a must in my personal relationships.
In political races, much has been made of the question: "Would you want to have a beer with this guy?" George W. Bush's flair for imitating a regular dude made some forget the "silver foot in his mouth" Ann Richards so colorfully described. Up until now, as GQ's John Surico pointed out, the media has painted Romney as a stiff CEO who can't share said beer with you even if he wanted to. Nobody laughs at the boss' dorky jokes. For me, this dinner poked a major holes in this stereotype.
But as I neared the end of Romney's 10-minute speech, the tone turned serious, and Romney praised the Catholic Church for being "in solidarity with the innocent child waiting to be born." And then I had an embarrassingly obvious, yet significant, thought: It's not Romney's rich-guy persona that bothers me. It's his policies, pure and simple.
"In our country, you can oppose someone in politics and make a confident case against their policies without any ill will," Romney said toward the end of his speech. Swing voters, the ones who ultimately decide every election, should take note. In the Oval Office, bills and beliefs—not beer—are what matters.