Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency: Not Even Close

A few thoughts on Saturday night's Civil Forum:

1. Give Rick Warren credit for asking important, substantive questions. I had my doubts about how the questioning would go but Warren did a good job overall. Pastor Warren asked penetrating questions of both candidates in this format which is not something we see often from the MSM. I'm conflicted about the greatest-moral-failure question since it seems like somewhat of a pointless "gotcha" question since it was not followed up with something like "and what did you learn from that experience." Considering the audience I suppose the questions about faith-based programs were obligatory but probably unnecessary since the candidates have very similar positions to the best of my knowledge. But mostly the questions were significant ones. Kudos to Warren. He is probably one of the few people who could have brokered an event like this without either side crying foul.

2. Barack Obama further demonstrated why more and more people are coming to the realization that he is all sizzle and no steak. The questions on evil and human life were particularly poor moments for Obama. The above-my-pay-grade punt on human life was inexcusable for someone who aspires to be the so-called "leader of the free world." His non-answer regarding how to respond to evil in the world was particularly disappointing. Contrast this to McCain's unhesitating responses of "at conception" regarding the human life question and "defeat it" regarding how to handle evil (along with his subsequent explanations) and its understandable why the consensus is that McCain clearly "won" the night.

3. The Forum could turn out to be a key moment in the campaign for McCain. The Forum was a good opportunity for McCain to momentarily compete on a level playing field. The cheating rumors are a good indication that the Obama campaign and his supporters in the media realize that McCain did very well in this event. It is clear why Obama refused to appear in the town hall meetings that McCain offered this summer. When Obama has a speech written for him that he can prepare for and read off the teleprompter he does a fine job, no doubt. Get him in a format like the Civil Forum and its painful to watch. McCain, on the other hand, does not deliver prepared remarks with the most charisma but he is clearly the better man in town hall-type settings. McCain is undoubtedly the more substantial candidate and the Saddleback Forum gave him an opportunity to demonstrate this. How much the event will help him in the long run is difficult to say.

4. Evangelicals continue to wield significant influence in American politics (for better or for worse). The MSM had largely declared that the days of evangelical political strength were over but it would be difficult to explain the candidates' interest in such an event as the Saddleback Forum if this were true. It is fair to say that we have seen a recent broadening of the "evangelical" issues beyond abortion and homosexual marriage although it has always been a distortion to reduce the extent of evangelical political concern to these two issues alone. On the other hand, the supposed leftward turn within American evangelicalism since the last election appears to be greatly exaggerated. However you explain it, the existence and success of the Saddleback Civil Forum should raise some doubts about the oft-reported demise of evangelical political influence.

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