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2008 Presidential Race

>Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency: Not Even Close

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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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Discussion

18 thoughts on “>Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency: Not Even Close

  1. >I suppose we could take issue with the question because, technically speaking, you don’t “defeat” evil. Well, I just don’t even want that anywhere near my foreign policy. I understand your nuancing. No problem there. I just don’t think this is the time for drawing lines so clearly and rigidly.

    Posted by QueenKnitter | August 22, 2008, 12:57 pm
  2. >If Warren asked a similar type of question of John Frame, for instance, and Frame gave McCain’s response I would take issue with that. I would expect some discussion of perhaps progressive sanctification or dominion or the inbreaking of the kingdom along with our eschatological hope regarding evil. But he asked the question of two people who are running for president. When Warren used words such as “negotiate” I think it clearly signals that he is implying foreign policy here. When he speaks of “defeating” it one would look to Reagan as a precedent. In common, non-technical language you might hear commentators say Reagan defeated the Soviet Union (which he called the Evil Empire). This is the way Warren was using the terms. I suppose we could take issue with the question because, technically speaking, you don’t “defeat” evil. But to do this would be similar to me getting upset with someone for saying that their father is a “good” person. I could object by saying No! No one is good, not one! Only Christ is good. But I wouldn’t do that because instinctly we understand that the word is being used in a common manner rather than a technical one.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | August 22, 2008, 2:58 am
  3. >I think the “evil” question had to be bunted. It was sooooo broad. It invited more glittering generalities. And defeating evil? [sarcasm]Nah. . . . there’s no glittering generality there!![/sarcasm]

    Posted by QueenKnitter | August 22, 2008, 2:25 am
  4. >One commentator (Jed Babbin) wrote, “McCain took a full swing on question after question. Obama bunted.” That’s a good summary description of the night including the queston on evil.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | August 22, 2008, 1:57 am
  5. >If someone had given Barack’s response to me over dinner I would have said, uh huh. You’re right, God is the one who will ultimately rid the world of evil. So what are you going to do about this evil in Darfur? Be humble about it? OK, and then? We confront it wherever we see it, right. So what’s your strategy on dealing with these nuclear weapons Iran has? Only God can erase evil. Right, so what will this look like in an Obama administration?He left us with generalized, abstract non-aswers. “We see evil all around us. It must be confronted and confronted squarely.” Who disagrees with this? No one. Next.”We can’t erase evil from the world, only God can. We can confront it when we see it.” Interesting theological point. Essentially correct. Not very helpful. Don’t think Warren implied that the president could rid the world of evil although many of Obama’s previous speeches seem to indicate that he thinks he can. Good to hear that ridding the world of evil is also above his pay grade. “We need to be humble. Obligatory excursus on how messed up America is.” OK, helpful principle about humility to remind ourselves about. And that’s it. His answer was much like his campaign – sounds nice, feels good, means nothing. Obama has consistently offered us platitudes. And when he has been prepped to offer particulars he turns out to be the one offering cures that are worse than sickness as he reminded us happens so often.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | August 22, 2008, 1:48 am
  6. >Yeah, I’m done now. Let me get this straight — you all like McCain’s answer to the Evil question? “Yes, Evil is EVIL, and WE MUST DEFEAT IT!”Are you kidding me? It reminded me of Alan Keyes’ visit to Bob Jones University back in 2000. His topic was handed to him, and of course, he got a standing ovation.I can’t understand how people who believe in Total Depravity would applaud McCain’s answer. I really can’t.

    Posted by QueenKnitter | August 21, 2008, 11:10 pm
  7. >I’m listening to the forum now. I like Obama’s answer — a lot — I would say the same thing if you asked me today over dinner. I haven’t gotten to McCain yet, but based on what you all are saying, I think I’ll hate it.

    Posted by QueenKnitter | August 21, 2008, 7:58 pm
  8. >I would have appreciated Obama’s answer a little more if I thought he truly believed what he was saying.That does seem to put a damper on your relationship.Trying to put my partisanship aside for a moment, if he truly meant it when he said “Just because we think are intentions are good doesn’t mean that we’re going to be doing good” then I would say “amen.” His comments had some truth to them but, again, he didn’t answer the questionPerhaps he thought it was a bad question, and perhaps his refusal of the multiple choice question was something akin to Fred Thompson’s refusal to participate in a “show of hands” when asked about rather complex policy matters.You know where I am regarding these questions, and I know where you are, so I thank you for keeping the tone irenic as we explore them once again in the context of this event. I do appreciate that you’re willing to engage the question at hand rather than immediately dig trenches to defend partisan turf. I can only hope that I maintain the same kind of charity and civility.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | August 20, 2008, 2:13 pm
  9. >I appreciate that McCain started with what he believes to be the top manifestation of evil facing us today. Then he gave the specific example of two women as an example of why this is so. Then he went into some (relative) specifics as to what we will do about radical Islamic extremism. And then he closed with an exhortation about why we must do this. We can certainly debate the particulars of what McCain said but he actually answered the question and answered it as someone who wants to be President rather than the next head of Child Protective Services or a mayor of a city. I would have appreciated Obama’s answer a little more if I thought he truly believed what he was saying. His comments about humility and causing evil with our cures for evil seem refreshing on the surface. He was obviously referring to the Iraq war with his answer. However, once you apply his answer to the domestic scene it is comical. The entire Democrat platform and worldview is about causing more harm than good with their policies. Obama said “A lot of evil has been perpertrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.” There you have a summary statement of the last 100 years of the “liberal” worldview in American politics. Trying to put my partisanship aside for a moment, if he truly meant it when he said “Just because we think are intentions are good doesn’t mean that we’re going to be doing good” then I would say “amen.” His comments had some truth to them but, again, he didn’t answer the question. He could mentioned that we do more harm than good many times and then given an example of how he would avoid this. “For instance, I am going to do such and such regarding Iran and this will avoid the evils of what we did in Iraq.” But he did not do this.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | August 20, 2008, 12:11 pm
  10. >I suppose that’s one (of many) places where we see things differently, Jeff. I suppose I’d prefer a chief executive who’s more aware of the pervasive character of evil. I’m tired of political Manicheism that pitches military invasions as “defeating evil” rather than as the Machiavellian maneuvering that they must be. You know the ten scariest words in the English language? “Hello. I’m your president, and I’m here to defeat evil.” ;)Messiah complex indeed…

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | August 20, 2008, 11:23 am
  11. >I view Obama’s non-answer regarding how to respond to evil similiarly to the way I view everyone’s love for humankind. Its safe to say that we all love humanity. Now that no-good neighbor of mine 30ft away, that’s another story. As long as we leave our love of man as an abstract notion, its fairly easy. Once we get down to the one on one, face to face level it can be extremely difficult. Obama’s answer regarding evil was as effortless and generic as our love for humanity. Of course there is evil and of course we all agree that we should confront it wherever we find it. Warren’s question of ‘does evil exist’ was a gimmee that merely set up the main question which was ‘what should we do about it – ignore, negotiate, contain, defeat?’ When Obama did offer specifics they were so cliche and abstract as to be meaningless. Genocide in Darfur and child abuse, yes, these are examples of evil. But the heart of the question is what should we do about it? How would you respond to it? McCain offered specific examples of evil and actually addressed the heart of the question by giving examples of what he would do about the specific examples he mentioned. I don’t see McCain’s answer as a softball answer. Naming names and getting specific was more gutsy and genuine than Obama’s abstract comments that did not answer the question. Sure, child abuse is evil and we’re all against it. So is beating up old ladies, vandalizing places of worship and any other number of safe, easy answers he could have come up with. Obama mentioned Darfur and then said we should confront evil wherever we find it. So, using Warren’s options, what is he going to do about it – ignore, negotiate, contain, defeat? Will he send troops into Sudan? What? Yes, evil is everywhere around us but Obama’s response was a disappointing dodge. Perhaps McCain exploited the opportunity by addressing the war on terror but he addressed the actual question honestly and head-on. I think it was appropriate to address the subject he did since this is an issue that actually pertains to the job he is seeking (unlike child abuse) and is a top-tier issue in this election. I suppose a very generous critique could view Obama’s response as complex but I think it was closer to obfuscation. Human life? Above Barack’s pay grade. Evil? God will take care of it and we can help. Theologically accurate, granted, but a cop out.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | August 20, 2008, 1:58 am
  12. >Nate,I was worried that somebody was going to think I believe that. My comment (“same old Dem tactics, same old MSM”) was because the Obama camp immediately called fall and said McCain cheated (Dem tactics). Then Andrea Mitchell and NBC repeated the claim which gave it credibility even though it is unsubstantiated (MSM)…and then Daily Kos and other extreme, liberal blogs pick it up and start coming up with conspiracy theories. Vicious cycle. Sorry I wasn’t clear before.

    Posted by J.Wizzle | August 20, 2008, 12:06 am
  13. >::chortle:: I am half-kidding about it. But only half. 😉 I haven’t watched the Saddleback forum yet because every time I try to “sell” it to my husband in the evening, he groans. Oh well, that’s what Tivo is for, right?I will say that I’m kinda glad that McCain has a little campaign mojo back. For Pete’s sake, he was pitiful there for a few weeks. Even the applesauce tried to kill itself.

    Posted by QueenKnitter | August 19, 2008, 11:41 pm
  14. >So the Daily Kos is now part of the SCLM?

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | August 19, 2008, 11:04 pm
  15. >Camille,I hope you don’t really believe that. Daily Kos isn’t really a good source for facts anyways. Check out what Rick Warren had to say about the so-called cheating. http://blog.beliefnet.com/godometer/2008/08/rick-warren-to-godometer-obama.htmlYou can tell McCain really knocked it out of the park on Saturday night. If he didn’t we wouldn’t see the Obama people panicking and making up lies. It’s pretty insulting to say that the only way that McCain could have done well is if he cheated. I’m not really surprised though…same old Dem tactics, same old MSM. *shrugs*

    Posted by J.Wizzle | August 19, 2008, 5:33 pm
  16. >Jared beat me to that one, though I was going to cite Boethius rather than the National Review. Perhaps I’m overestimating Obama, but I think he might well be capable of seeing his own best intentions as potential sources of evil. I say that because, in his discussion of Chief Justice Roberts, his main critique was that he tends to allocate too much and insufficiently checked power to the chief executive, the office to which he aspires.

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | August 19, 2008, 4:51 pm
  17. >I could come up with answers that my audience wanted to hear, too, if I knew all the questions ahead of time. Meh.

    Posted by QueenKnitter | August 19, 2008, 2:45 pm
  18. >On National Review’s “The Corner” (http://corner.nationalreview.com/) Jonah Goldberg had a different take on the evil question:Where Obama Was Right, and the Right Wrong [Jonah Goldberg]As I said the other night, I think McCain won big in Saddleback. But there’s at least one area where I think I liked Obama’s answer better than McCain’s, even if McCain’s was better politics. When asked about evil, Obama gave a complex answer in which he said, basically, evil is everywhere including in us. McCain took it as a softball for talking about the war on terror. Good for McCain, but I think Obama’s answer was more appropriate given that he was talking to a pastor and it was more accurate generally speaking. But Charles Krauthammer dismissed the answer on Fox News as “postmodern” and Bill Kristol today applauds McCain’s answer essentially because it was tactically more advisable and because it confirmed that McCain is a war president, which is what Bill wants in a commander-in-chief. That’s all good and fine. But Obama is right that evil is everywhere. It’s not just a foreign policy category (recall David Frum and Richard Perle’s oddly named foreign policy book, “An End to Evil”?). Obama is right that evil is within all of us and sometimes our good intentions do advance evil. Obama said, “a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.” And: “just because we think our intentions are good doesn’t always mean that we’re going to be doing good.” Personally, I seriously doubt Obama contemplates that his progressive good intentions can lead to evil. Rather, I think he was suggesting in somewhat coded terms that people who talk about evil are often the source of evil (take that moralists!). And, yes, I do think Obama is a postmodernist. But on the merits, I think Obama’s answer was the better one.

    Posted by Jared Nelson | August 19, 2008, 1:55 pm

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