The Al Smith dinner

The Al Smith dinner video is an entertaining white-tie affair where America’s corporate and political elites get together to give amusing speeches. This year’s gathering is particularly good: Obama and Romney flanked a New York cardinal. Each candidate spoke amusingly at his own expense. It is well worth watching.

It did not appeal to one of the more interesting, if fanatic, conservative bloggers, Lawrence Auster.

The disgrace of the Al Smith dinner

Several readers, cheered by its wittiness, have sent the video of Romney’s speech at the Alfred E. Smith dinner last night. I agree he had good and funny lines. But I’m not cheered by it. When we have a president as dishonest, radical, and anti-American as Obama, to get together with him and make the traditional hale-fellow-well-met mutual jokes at each other’s expense creates the illusion that we are still living in an America where politicians of different parties had disagreements but shared fundamental principles and loyalties—an America that no longer exists. In reality, the Obama administration and the elite of today’s Democratic Party are a vile clique of lying leftists out to weaken and tyrannize America and empower and liberate our enemies. Romney, by joking amiably with Obama, helps sustain the false belief, so helpful to the left, that Obama and his party are part of a recognizable, historical America, and thus helps legitimize them. As I said recently, where would the Democrats be, without the Republicans?

Auster puzzles me. He is right about so many issues, when so many are wrong, and yet personally intolerable: humourless, arrogant, hostile, even, to all friendly discourse that might explore what is important to be conserved.

Among the values that a conservative should support, I believe, is moderation in behaviour, civility, and good manners. I do not see how you can be an effective conservative while shouting, raging, and shutting down the conversation. I sin against these virtues constantly; I am not holding myself as an exemplar of polite manners in all occasions. I can do a Hitchens at the dinner table as well as the next well-educated drunken intellectual. Certain people have got under my skin at parties, and when they do, I lose the argument.

Nevertheless, conservatism is not just about being right about history, or other external issues. It is to a great degree about maintaining the habits of social cohesion, even in the face of provocation. It has to do with the possibility of a civilized life, and that includes not just correct ideas, but tolerance and forbearance in social situations when you might just as well feel like throttling the bastards.

A decent regard for the opinions of mankind is not dhimmitude to evil. The fanatics will never understand that being right is not enough. Tolstoy said that all he ever learned, he learned through love. Politeness, forbearance, civility are less than love, but they maintain the conditions in which people might learn.

There is too much error in mankind to spend your life raging at it, and them.