August 16, 2008

Let's watch the Saddleback Presidential Forum together.

Saddle up!

7:00 CT: CNN's John King pauses to let other networks join, and when he does, we can hear a voice saying "God who gave us life, gave us..." King drowns that out with the info that this "is not a debate... but the candidates will be questioned about their faith... about their compassion..." Bizarre.

7:01: Rick Warren tells us "we believe in the separation of church and state" but not "the separation of religion and politics." [CORRECTION FROM THE TRANSCRIPT: "... we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics..."] A coin was flipped and Barack Obama is going first, so John McCain will be kept "in a cone of silence." Warren wants us to disagree without demonizing each other and to restore civility to our political discourse. Now, here's Obama, with an open collar and no tie, and he hugs Warren, then finds his way over to the desk for the interview. [ADDED: Warren is also tieless.]

7:04: Warren wants to know who are the 3 wisest people he's known in his life [ADDED: to whom he will turn for advice]. First: Michelle. She can "get up in [his] face." Second: His grandmother. (Hauling her out from under that bus.) Grounded. Common sense. Third... No, now he's talking about political advisors, and he's not going with rankings anymore. He wants "a table where a lot of different points of view are represented."

7:07: Asked about his own failures, Obama talks about his troubled youth: drugs, drinking, "I couldn't focus on other people." But growing up, he realized "it's not all about me." Failure comes when he's selfish and doesn't think about "God's work." America's failure comes when we "don't abide by that basic precept in Matthew, that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me." For the uninitiated: the "me" is Jesus, but he's quoting, people, so please don't say he's talking like the Messiah.

7:09: Obama looked overpowdered and unnatural when he came out. (Except his ears, which looked shiny.) But he's sweating a little now, so he looks more normal. The Hawaiian tan is becoming.

7:11: Asked about "flip-flopping"/changing his mind, Obama talks about welfare reform, which worried him back when Bill Clinton signed it into law. But it worked better than he'd thought. "We have to have work as a centerpiece of any social policy." I think he sounds lucid and fluent. He's gotten the message that he shouldn't say "uh."

7:14: What tough decision has he had to make? He decided to oppose the war in Iraq. His critics can say he's never really had to make a tough decision. Certainly, there were no consequences (except to his own political future) of opposing the war, so this answer exposes his inexperience.

7:19: What does faith in Christ mean to him? He believes that "Jesus Christ died for my sins." He's "redeemed." He knows he doesn't "walk alone" and can carry out "in some small way, what He intends." Deeds matter, but he knows he'll fall short each day. It gave him the confidence to run for President.

7:21: Warren notes that there are 40 million abortions and asks when the unborn should be considered human. [ADDED: More specifically: At what point do the unborn have "human rights"?] Obama says that sort of decision is "above my pay grade," which sounds too cold for most people, I would guess, and then he moves quickly to the idea of the "moral difficulties" of abortion and the need for the woman's choice. "I don't think women make these decisions casually." And then on to the "common ground": reducing the number of abortions. He wants to provide resources and support that help women decide to keep a child. [ADDED: I revise my opinion here.]

7:25: Define marriage. It's "the union of a man and a woman," and for him as a Christian, it's "sacred" and "God's in the mix." How about a constitutional amendment saying that? No. The tradition has been to leave this to state law. He admits that there is a concern about same-sex marriage, which he doesn't support, but he likes civil unions. He seems a little robotic intoning this position. I'm sure in his heart he supports full rights for gay people, but obviously, at this point, he can't say it.

7:28: Stem cell research. Go ahead and use those embryos that you'd be throwing out otherwise. People don't think "boy, let's go destroy some embryos."

7:31: Warren asks "Does evil exist?" and what do we do about it. And it's at this point that I decide Warren is doing a terrific job. But of course, Obama says evil exists. But then what? "Confront it." But he must be thinking about how George Bush talked about evil, and he goes on to add that we have to be "humble" about what we do, because harm can be done confronting it. He doesn't have anything to say about how he'd balance between confrontation and humility in the face of evil. And in fact, I don't think he says anything here that George Bush himself wouldn't say.

7:32: Warren really wins me over with his phrasing of the Supreme Court question: "Which existing Supreme Court Justice would you not have nominated?" Obama knows he's been boxed in, as he says "That's a good one." He says: "Clarence Thomas. I don't think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation, setting aside the fact that I disagree with his interpretations of a lot of the Constitution. I would not nominate Justice Scalia, although I don't think there's any doubt about his intellectual brilliance, because he and I just disagree..." John Roberts? He says that's a tougher question. Oh come on. You voted against his confirmation! Obviously, you wouldn't nominate him.

7:33: Would you make faith-based organizations give up discrimination based on religion in their hiring for social programs that receive government funding? In a lot of words, the answer is: yes.

7:37: Merit pay for teachers? Yes. (But pay all teachers more.)

7:45: When is war justified? He sounds dry and cold answering this. "Well, uh, obviously, American freedom. American lives. America's national interest.... We also have forged alliances...." When would you end a genocide? He says there's no "hard and fast line." We "should act" when we can, if we have the "international community" with us (but not necessaily the U.N.).

7:47: "Define 'rich'?" $150,000 or less — for a family — is middle class (or lower). If you're making more than $250,000, "you're doing well." I'm not sure what happens to all those in that gap between $150,000 and $250,000 or those who are not supporting a family with their income.

7:48: What will he do for the world's 148 million orphans? Obama indicates that he will look into it and shifts over to talking about preventing orphans. What will he do about religious persecution around the world? Obama would: 1. "speak out," 2. "lead by example."

7:51: There are 27 million slaves in the world. What will he do about that? Give prosecutors "the tools to crack down" in this country. As for the rest of the world... I'm not sure he has anything other than concern.

7:53: Warren asks the question asked by that 7-year-old girl the other day: Why do you want to be President? His answer is that his mother would get mad at him if he was ever mean. He wants to apply that standard to America. We're "slipping." We're "at a critical juncture." He wants to bring people together to find common sense solutions to problems.

7:54: How does he like this forum? Obama thinks it's good.

7:56: What would you tell Americans if you knew there'd be no repercussions? Answer: It's going to be hard to solve our energy problems and we should sacrifice for the next generation. That's the end, and the audience is told to give him a standing ovation, which it does pretty enthusiastically. Now, welcome John McCain. McCain comes out. He's tieless. John and Barack hug. They wave.

8:01: Leadership. The 3 wisest people you know, whom you'll rely on. First: General Petraeus, "who took us from defeat to victory in Iraq." So McCain starts off in a much more serious way. Second: John Lewis. He can teach us about "courage and commitment." Third: Meg Whitman, the CEO of eBay. She represents free enterprise to him "in these economically challenging times." That was a much more presidential answer than Obama's. Really, why would a President have the members of his family as his main advisors? And Obama's political advisors were an unmemorable jumble of — what was it? — Senators? You know, I initially thought it was an advantage to go first, but second is interesting, because we immediately contrast each statement to Obama's. Knowing that McCain didn't hear Obama's answers makes it even a bit thrilling. If they had been on the stage together, McCain would have had to think about whether to honor at least one family member to match Obama. This way, we see that the notion doesn't seem to have occurred to him.

8:03: Your and America's greatest moral failure. His greatest moral failure is his first marriage. He doesn't expand on that, but listening at home, we can't help thinking of all the talk about John Edwards in the last week and how it made many people bring up McCain's old failings. America's greatest moral failure, McCain says, is not being devoted to more than our own interests. After 9/11, instead of saying we should go shopping, we should have encouraged people to join the Peace Corps or join the military. "Serve a cause greater than your self-interest." I note that he didn't talk about the U.S. government there. For him, "America" signified Americans. But Obama took it the same way. Serve others. Don't be selfish. One distinction: the military springs right to mind for McCain, but not Obama.

8:06: When did he go against his party's interest for the good of America? He has a long list, but he concentrates on saying that, despite Reagan's preference, we shouldn't send a few hundred Marines into Beirut to keep the peace.

8:07: What has he changed his mind about in the past 10 years? He pauses a while, then jerks to attention with his idea: "Offshore drilling! We gotta drill now and we gotta drill here." This gets the biggest applause of the night (to my ear).

8:08: McCain grabs some time to say we need to develop nuclear power.

8:09: What is the most "gut-wrenching" decision he's ever had to make? He says it was facing the offer to leave the prison in North Vietnam, which he refused because the code of conduct forbade leaving before an earlier-captured comrade, though he was in "bad physical shape" and the refusal meant that it would not "be easy" for him after that and it wasn't. He adds, "It took a lot of prayer." This corresponds to Obama's tough decision to oppose the war in Iraq.

8:15: What does it mean for you to be a Christian? "It means I'm saved and forgiven." He gets through that super-fast, then claims time to "tell a little story." The story is about how the North Vietnamese tied him up tightly in ropes, and a particular guard loosened the ropes, then hours later retightened them. Later, on Christmas, that guard marked a cross in the dirt for him.

8:18: At what point is an unborn child entitled to human rights? Without hesitation, McCain says: "At the moment of conception." (Remember, Obama said, that's "above my pay grade.") Big applause in the Saddleback Church. "I have a 25 year pro-life record."

8:19: Define marriage. "A union between a man and a woman." Then he pushes to talk about the Supreme Court. (McCain, unlike Obama, tries to break out of the questions.) Warren adjust by asking about whether the California Supreme Court was wrong to find a right to gay marriage in the California state constitution. McCain says they were. He believes the states should make the decisions — "I'm a federalist" — but he wants to preserve traditional one-man-one-woman marriage. If a federal court were to say the states must recognize same-sex marriage, then he would support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but until then, he would leave it to the states.

8:21: Stem cell research. It's "a terrible dilemma," but he supports it.

8:22. Evil: "Should we ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it, or defeat it?" "Defeat it." He repeats his old statement that he'll follow Osama bin Laden "to the gates of Hell." He speaks passionately about defeating al Qaeda. Obama spoke only abstractly about evil, while McCain instantly limited the question to al Qaeda.

8:24: "Which existing Supreme Court Justice would you not have nominated?" "With all due respect, Justice Ginburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Souter, and..." — with some hesitation — "Justice Stevens."

8:26: Faith-based organizations and religious discrimination in hiring if they accept federal funding. He "absolutely" rejects imposing this non-discrimination requirement. Speaking with some passion, he says it would mean "a severe crippling" of their ability to function. He speaks of the work of Baptists in New Orleans after Katrina. Again, McCain is both more specific and more passionate than Obama (who is more cool and abstractly cerebral).

8:28: Merit pay for teachers? Sure. And he's shoehorns in the topic of school choice. "Choice and competition" works. "Give everybody the same opportunity."

8:30: At what point is someone rich? He doesn't state a number but a standard — fuzzily about taking care of the next generation. A good line: "I don't want to take any money from the rich. I want everybody to get rich." He adds that he doesn't believe in "class warfare" and "redistribution of the wealth." Clearly, this is a big difference from Obama. Obama wants to say there are these rich people over there, who are not you, and we can safely tax them more and give more to you. McCain says he's not dividing people up, but wants to keep taxes low for everyone and encourage moneymaking. He also shoehorns in an opinion on health care (a subject Obama never got to address). Finally, he comes up with a number for rich: $5 million. Compare that to Obama's $150,000 or $250,000! But he was kind of kidding. Now, he's shoehorning in the issue of spending.

8:40: What is worth fighting a war for? "Freedom. National security.... We can't right every wrong, but we can... be a beacon of hope... a shining city on a hill." What about stopping genocide? We need to stop genocide "when we can." It's "complicated," but we could supply the equipment for to be used by Africans in places like Darfur. McCain also speaks in detail about Georgia.

8:46: Religious freedom around the world. The President has "the bully pulpit."

8:48: The world's orphans. Warren is pushing for spending, I think, but McCain stresses adoption. Make adoption easier. He tells the story of his wife surprising him with a baby she brought home from Bangladesh.

8:51: "What would you say to people who oppose me asking you these questions in a church?" "Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values. I'm happy to be here.... I'm honored to be here." And that's the end. Another standing o.

8:55: Rick Warren lectures us again on the importance of civility and blesses us. Back to John King. Analysis to follow. But that's all for me for now. I'll just say the forum — and I was skeptical — was very nicely handled by Rick Warren and the 2 candidates.

IN THE COMMENTS: Lots of folks think McCain won clearly. A telling comment from XWL: "McCain has the advantage of just being able to say what he thinks."


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EnigmatiCore said...

"EnigmatiCore--I can give you one more reason not to sit out the election: If you do so, you symbolically forfeit the right to gripe about whatever happens the next four years. (And there may be a lot to gripe about!)"

I am pretty sure that no matter who wins, I will still have my free speech rights as an American, will be able to gripe whenever I choose, and as such won't have forfeited anything.

Kev said...

I know this thread is past its limit, but I felt the need to respond:

I am pretty sure that no matter who wins, I will still have my free speech rights as an American, will be able to gripe whenever I choose, and as such won't have forfeited anything.

I said symbolically, EnigmatiCore. Nobody's disputing your free speech rights; all I'm saying is that, if you don't participate in the voting process, your words may carry less weight with those who did.

Host with the Most said...

Well, McCain supporters, we should all enjoy this small respite of joy in the "McCain won glow" while we can.

Because today, all the debates and all the Obama imagery will be controlled by the Main Stream media, where any McCain "attack" on Obama will be immediately questioned or countered by the media themselves. And where in any article on McCain, Obama's people will always get the last word.

sharinlite said...

Thank you Ann, I thought I had missed much more than I did based on your "live blogging"....

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