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Analysis of the Rick Warren Presidential Forum: Passion and Conviction Versus Monotone Smooth-talker

 McCain may have finally redeemed himself among the evangelical right. While it was clear in his facial expressions that Pastor Rick Warren preferred Obama over McCain, McCain easily outperformed Obama in his responses to issues evangelicals care about.

The first presidential forum featuring John McCain against Barack Obama took place at evangelical Pastor Rick Warren’s megachurch Saddleback. Warren, who has all but endorsed Obama, is unlike the vast majority of evangelical pastors who are conservative, signing a statement advocating for government measures to prohibit global warming and promoting U.S. funding of AIDS prevention around the world. His sermons tend to focus on the positive feel-good aspects of Christian teachings, or the “social gospel,” avoiding the inerrant truth of the Bible.

While it was clear in his facial expressions that Warren preferred Obama over McCain, McCain easily outperformed Obama in his responses to issues evangelicals care about. McCain shone, especially since he wasn’t trying to run to the middle of the electorate which Obama was doing. Obama hedged and stalled while answering the questions. McCain was so sure of his responses sometimes he interrupted Pastor Warren in answering before Warren had finished asking the questions. McCain had no hesitation asserting strong conservative positions. The format consisted of a series of identical questions selected by Warren to both candidates, without knowledge first of how the other answered. To Warren’s credit, the questions were pretty balanced, and didn’t overly favor either candidate (he wouldn’t want to risk alienating too many in his generally conservative evangelical audience).

The first question asked was which three people did each candidate consider the wisest sources they would consult during their administration. Obama said his wife, his grandmother, and several members of Congress including Ted Kennedy, one of the most liberal Democrats in the Senate. McCain’s response was a little better, although none of the people he mentioned are particularly close friends of his: General Petraeus, a military soldier named John Lewis, and former CEO of e-Bay, Meg Whitman.

Warren asked both candidates what they thought was their biggest moral failure and what was the U.S.’s biggest moral failure. McCain scored points with conservatives here by acknowledging it was his first marriage. But when it came to the biggest moral failure of the U.S, he should have said it was abortion. Instead, he said not devoting ourselves to causes greater than our self-interest.

Obama kept repeating throughout the forum that he’s come to realize it’s not about himself, which was nothing more than a rip-off from Pastor Warren’s book (Obama even noted that the first line of A Purpose Driven Life is “It’s not about you”). Those words rang pretty hollow, since as it’s been pointed out numerous times throughout this campaign that Obama has made it all about him and his “change.” His remarks were clearly an attempt to deflect attention from his presidential campaign being all about promoting himself. Even when asked at the end of the debate why he wanted to be president, he said it’s because when his mom was mad at something he did, she would tell him to put himself in the shoes of someone else.

The other theme Obama kept coming back to was that we don’t do enough for the least in society. That also rang hollow because he wasn’t referring to encouraging Americans to get active in charitable work, but instead wanted them to vote to raise taxes so we can force everyone, even those who don’t want to help in this manner, to turn over their earned money to the government to then dole it out to favored groups.

Obama’s example of going against his party? He had a hard time answering this, because he has been one of the most consistently liberal members of the U.S. Senate. He came up with being against the resolution to go to war against Iraq. Well, Senate Democrats were split on this issue; 29 voted for it, and 21 voted against it, putting Obama safely within the ideological base of the party. The other issue he cited was campaign finance reform. Only 2 Democrat Senators voted against McCain-Feingold in 2002, so it’s a real stretch to say that advocating for campaign finance reform bucked the Democrat Party line. McCain had no problem listing several issues where he’s gone against the Republican Party line.

McCain scored points when he responded to a question on what issue he’s changed his mind on within the past 10 years – offshore oil drilling. “We’ve got to drill here and we’ve got to become independent of foreign oil.”

The candidates were asked what was the most gut-wrenching decision they ever made, and McCain won that round, recounting the decision he made not to be set free early when he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Even though his high-ranking father could have gotten him out early, he refused, since there were others who had been in prison longer than him. It made it all the more poignant seeing him at the beginning of the forum next to Obama, unable to move his arms very high in the air as he waved to the crowd, because of the severe torture he underwent in North Vietnam.

When asked about abortion, Obama dodged the question, saying that answering that question was above his pay grade. This is doubly troubling considering Obama is raking in millions of dollars as a presidential candidate, and is paid a hefty salary as a U.S. Senator ($165,200) precisely to decide issues like the legality of abortion. That wasn’t even the most ridiculous thing he said about abortion. “I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe v. Wade and come to that conclusion not because I’m pro-abortion, but because ultimately I don’t think women make these decisions casually. They wrestle with these things in profound ways, in consultation with their pastors or spouses or their doctors and their family members.” This is not true. There are plenty of women who have abortions because they would prefer a different gender, or they think it would be “inconvenient” to have a baby at that particular time in their life. Many don’t bother consulting the father. This statement by Obama was sadly telling; he would prefer to gloss over the truth on this issue. He also claimed that abortions have gone up under President Bush, which was immediately disputed as false by major pro-life organizations. In actuality, abortions are at their lowest level in 30 years.

McCain’s response to when a baby is entitled to human rights? Unhesitatingly, “At the moment of conception. I have a 25-year prolife record in the Congress, in the Senate, and as president of the United States, I will be a prolife president and this presidency will have prolife policies. That’s my commitment, that’s my commitment to you.” His answer was impressive and John Jakubczyk from Arizona Right to Life should be credited in part with ensuring McCain’s understanding of this issue. Although McCain didn’t completely reverse himself on his support of government funding of embryonic stem cell research now that imitation adult stem cells have been developed (kudos to Pastor Warren for asking this question), he came pretty close, “I am wildly optimistic that skin cell research which is coming more and more into focus and practicability will make this debate an economic one.”

Next the candidates were asked if they would support a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Obama’s answer was another dodge. He said he would oppose it because historically, gay marriage has not been defined in the U.S. Constitution, so it should be left up to the states. If we used this logic, slavery might still exist and women might not have the right to vote in some states, among other things.

Pastor Warren asked Obama and McCain if evil exists and what to do about it. Obama’s answer was a bit strange, saying that it exists in Darfur and also in U.S. cities. The obvious response would have been terrorism and al Quaeda, but he was noticeably silent. Of course, it came as no surprise that Obama blamed evil on U.S. cities, toeing the liberal “America is bad” line.

McCain’s response on evil was much better. He interrupted Pastor Warren saying “Defeat it…If I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice….Not long ago in Baghdad, al-Quada took two young women who were mentally disabled and put suicide vests on them, sent them into a marketplace and by remote control, detonated those suicide vests. If that isn’t evil, you have to tell me what is…”

The candidates were asked which U.S. Supreme Court justice would they have not nominated. Obama responded saying Clarence Thomas, claiming he wasn’t experienced enough. This was a poor criticism considering – as Charles Krauthammer pointed out during the interim forum on Fox News – Obama has so little experience himself. But more importantly, it was disturbing considering Obama named Thomas over Scalia or any other justice. Scalia’s and Thomas’s opinions are very similar, and very well-written, but Scalia has been particularly biting in his opinions. The fact that Obama singled Thomas out raises suspicions that Obama harbors a deep resentment against Thomas for daring to be a conservative instead of toeing the Jesse Jackson liberal position expected of African-Americans. It was sadly apparent that Obama buys into the liberal mentality that those of a certain skin color must all think alike.

McCain said he wouldn’t have nominated Ruth Ginsberg, Breyer, Souter, or Stevens. Considering Stevens has been a bit of a swing vote on the bench, it was impressive to hear McCain include him among the three liberals he wouldn’t have nominated. His reasoning was because they don’t strictly adhere to the Constitution and legislate from the bench, which is where some of the worst damage has been done.

The candidates were asked about paying schoolteachers based on merit. Obama had some wishy-washy answer. McCain’s response? “Find bad teachers another line of work.” Pastor Warren interjected and accused McCain of replying too quickly. McCain shot right back, “Can I just say choice and competition, home schooling, charter school vouchers, all the choice competition I want….home schooling works, vouchers in our nation’s capitol works….New York City is reforming….New Orleans now has over 30 charter schools in the city and guess what? It’s all coming up…what kind of opportunity is it if you send them to a failing school?”

Obama said that he thought a family making over $150,000/yr is rich, and he would increase their taxes. I can think of several friends of mine who make that income, who are married, have kids, and are saddled with huge college loans on the 25-year repayment plan. They certainly aren’t living high and mighty, but are living in modest homes with basic cars. Looking at it the other way, compared to people in the third world, blue-collar Americans making $40,000/yr are doing quite well. Income and wealth are all relative depending on the circumstances and for Obama to assume that he can make general assumptions about certain income levels is dangerous, considering the wealthy create jobs for the rest of us and contribute the most to charity. To remove that incentive is a step towards a socialized economy, which we know doesn’t work.

McCain had a much more realistic answer, “I don’t want to make money from the rich. I want everybody to get rich. I don’t believe in class warfare or redistribution of the wealth. But I can tell you for example there are small businessmen and women who are working 16 hours a day, seven days a week that some people would classify as rich, who [some] want to raise their taxes and their payroll taxes.”

The last segment focused on national defense and foreign policy. Warren brought up Georgia, and it was painful listening to Obama, whom you suspected until recently didn't know the differences between Georgia the state and Georgia the country, much less find it on on a map. McCain's grasp of the conflict with Russia was impressive, as he rattled off the list of surrounding countries that are standing up to Russia, "don't think it was an accident that the presence of Lithuania -- the presidents -- Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Ukraine -- flew to Tbilisi to show their solidarity with the president of Georgia because they all have something in common with Georgia. They lived under Russian domination for a long period of time."

It was a revealing forum and although Pastor Warren leans too liberal for most evangelicals, he did the country a big favor by putting it on and emphasizing faith and government issues.

Some of the better lines from the forum:

McCain: “By the way if you haven’t noticed we now have a pro-America president of France, which proves if you live long enough, anything can happen in America.”

Obama: “When I started, saying you know, we’re going to eliminate meals and gifts from corporate lobbyists, I remember one of my colleagues whose name will be unmentioned who said, well, where do you expect us to eat, McDonald’s? And I thought well, actually, a lot of our constituents probably do eat at McDonald’s so that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.”

McCain: “We spent $3 million of your money to study the DNA of bears in Montana, now I don’t know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue, but the point is – it was $3 million of your money.”

So, the question one wonders at the end of this is, who is Pastor Rick Warren going to vote for? (he refused to say when asked a couple of days later on the Sean Hannity radio show)

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5 comments to Analysis of the Rick Warren Presidential Forum: Passion and Conviction Versus Monotone Smooth-talker

  • jfking

    Well if Warren votes for Obama my vote will cancel his out.
    Maybe in 10 years Obama might be ready to be President, but he is not now.

  • jcscuba

    To quote Dennis Miller, "calling Obama an empty suit is an insult to coat hangers anywhere in the world" I've often explained Obama as an empty suit, full of recycled sixties nonsense that he is just recycling. This guy is the biggest fraud we most probably will see in out electoral lifetimes. How often does an individual sponsor a bill as he did to "improve education, provide merit pay, hold teachers accountable and require them to work an extra two hours a day as he did in Springfield, only to vote against it because the teacher's union is contributing to his campaign. This guy is a total fraud. Who will vote for him? The uneducated, the undereducated, liberals, socialists, blacks, youth,and people to ignorant to take the time to see that he stands for nothing but his own rock star ego. Wake up America! we don't need a socialist and central planner running our country.

  • Ivan Ivanovich

    Maybe I'm burned out on the Obama/McCain thing, but I was interested in what you had to say about Warren. You say he is for Obama, federal support of Al Gore warming, and AIDS prevention. I just don't get that. My church teaching, limited though it is, taught about putting money in the plate and volunteering to supervise its distribution to good causes. It was all about giving money and time, and local control. The government did its part by exempting churches from taxes. This is a system of maximum efficiency with all of the money going to the truly needy. When did “Do Good Works” morph into “Vote for Obama” and pay for congressional immorality?

  • kidoist

    By now(tuesday evening, almost 72 hours after the forum), you have changed your opinion of who Warren is endorsing/voting for. He all but said McCain on Hannity last night, saying he's pro life, conservative, Christian... In other words, he mirrored McCain, relatively speaking. I do understand your skepticism though. However, I found Warren to be a pleasant surprise. No, he didn't probe Obama on his live birth abortion votes, but he didn't really have to. Obama looked ridiculously soft on values and long on American blame...

  • Pastor Warren is no doubt an intelligent man, I've rea his books and I have to admit they have helped me. His apparrent support for Obama is confusing. I really cannot see how Pastor Warren could support Obama, but you can never know how someone is going to vote. We can only pray that the right man will be victorious.

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