Lurking Beneath (But Not Very Far Beneath) the Surface at the Al Smith Dinner

President Barack Obama, left, talks with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, second left, as Republican presidential candidate and former
President Barack Obama, left, talks with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, second left, as Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Ann Romney are seated at right as they attend the 67th annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, a charity gala organized by the Archdiocese of New York, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

NBC's Brian Williams, among others, seemed to find the compliments and jokes Barack Obama and Mitt Romney threw at one another at the annual Al Smith Dinner in New York to represent something like a heart-warming laying down of their campaign cudgels. At the dinner, the good Cardinal Timothy Dolan opined: "Might I suggest that this annual dinner actually shows the United States of America and the Catholic Church at their best."

I didn't find it so. Perhaps I was prejudiced by the awards dinner for "Catholic Layman of the Year" in the film, True Confessions. But I found the comments between the candidates to be remarkably demeaning, vicious, and self-aggrandizing (Romney was more vicious and self-pitying, Obama more self-aggrandizing.) Maybe most people are inclined to excuse the two men since one man can never be expected to say anything nice about another until attending their funeral.

What do you think of these comments the candidates swapped:

Romney: "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.'"

Obama: "Monday's debate is a little different, because the topic is foreign policy. Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden."

Romney: "When I suddenly pulled ahead in some of the major polls, what was the headline? 'Polls show Obama leading from behind.'"

Obama: "After my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas. I have to say, I'm impressed by how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem."

Romney: "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 new campaign slogan, 'You're better off now than you were four weeks ago.'"

Obama: "Of course the economy is on everybody's minds. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since I took office. I don't have a joke here. I just thought it'd be useful to remind everybody that the unemployment rate is at the lowest it's been since I took office."

Romney: "By the way, in the spirit of Sesame Street, the president's remarks tonight were brought to you by the letter 'O' and the number 16 trillion."

Obama: "Earlier I went shopping at some stores in Midtown. I understand Governor Romney went shopping for some stores in Midtown."

Both candidates ended with the standard praise for one another for being good family men (what if Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich had been nominated?), while Obama praised Romney for his "faith" (thank God neither of them is an atheist)! Remember when then-candidate John McCain defended then-candidate Obama against a woman's charge that he's an "Arab" with the defense "he's a decent family man," as though an "Arab" couldn't possibly be decent to his family?

Although I did laugh at their routines at the Smith dinner, I found the virtually all-male gathering (I saw only men speak -- did any women dilute the testosterone?) yet another example of macho, egotistical posturing -- you know, like the debates, the campaign, and Don Rickles. Is that considered polite behavior at social events you attend?

Oh, I forgot this one.

Romney: "President Obama and I are each very lucky to have one person who is always in our corner, someone who we can lean on, and someone who is a comforting presence, without whom, we wouldn't be able to go another day. I have my beautiful wife Ann, he has Bill Clinton."