NEW YORK -- President Barack Obama on Thursday gave a spirited and funny speech at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner in Manhattan, an evening hosted by the Archdiocese of New York and attended by many of the nation's most prominent Catholic citizens and clergy. Both presidential candidates have traditionally attended the dinner and given lighthearted speeches, and neither Obama nor Mitt Romney disappointed audiences Thursday.
There was one moment, however, that few people expected -- a deadpan joke from the president.
"Of course, the economy's on everybody's minds," Obama began. "The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since I took office." Here, typically, audiences might have expected a funny line. Instead, Obama looked dead-serious. "I don't have a joke here," he said. "I just thought it would be useful to remind everybody that the unemployment rate is at the lowest it's been since I took office. And we're getting to that time when folks are making up their minds."
Indeed, unemployment in September dropped to 7.8 percent, the lowest since January 2009, when Obama took office amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The jobs numbers added fuel to the Democrats' argument that the economic recovery is on track, albeit slower than the president promised.
It took audience members a few seconds to get the humor, or the seriousness, of Obama's remarks. They laughed and cheered, nonetheless, and Obama broke into a quick, layup of a joke, announcing, "Just the other day, [reality star] Honey Boo Boo endorsed me. So that's a big relief."
Romney, dressed in white tie as was Obama, spoke before the president, and gave what was by all accounts a magnanimous speech.
"Don't tell anyone I said so, but our 44th president has many gifts and a beautiful family that would make any man proud. ... 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."