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Monday, August 18, 2008

Thoughts on Saddleback

posted by on August 18 at 9:25 AM

If you didn’t catch the McCain-Obama appearance at Rick Warren’s California megachurch over the weekend, head for YouTube. It was a really fascinating event, not least because it marked the first time that Obama and McCain have been seen together on the same stage since they became the nominees for their respective parties.

The sharing of the stage lasted just a moment, but it delivered the contrast that liberals have been waiting for: young, virile, tall Obama vs. old, stiff, short McCain.

As for the substance, this was a really interesting discussion—as many people (including the normally wrong Bill Kristol) have already noted. I think most of the credit goes to the format: The two candidates sitting down, one after the other, with the same thoughtful interviewer asking each of them the same mostly open-ended questions.

This kind of format gets rid of all the interrupting and one-upsmanship that normally goes on at a debate, but still provides viewers a way to contrast the responses of the candidates on key political questions. (There is, of course, the possibility that the person who goes second will cheat and listen to the first person’s interview rather than staying in his “cone of silence”—which it sounds like McCain probably did—but never mind that. The format was still refreshing.)

Obama, I thought, came off well. He’s clearly very comfortable talking about his faith and the role of religion in public life, and I think this is a big part of what’s helping him make inroads among Evangelicals. He has a very smooth way of disagreeing on issues such as abortion while not making a religious audience feel condescended to or treated as some alien species. No matter what you think of Evangelicals (and I know Slog readers have many thoughts on the subject) this can only be good for Obama, electorally speaking.

McCain also came off well. Maybe it was because, as mentioned above, he probably cheated and was ready for Rick Warren’s questions. Or maybe he was helped by low expectations. But in any case, he was forceful, on top of all the issues, and even sort of funny in moments. If you’re liberal and you paid close attention to the substance of what McCain was saying, you were probably shouting at your television for much of the interview. But sorry, you’re not McCain’s intended audience. A lot of the rest of America really likes it when a white guy talks about destroying evil, lowering taxes, and doing bad things to the still-missing Osama bin Laden if he’s ever caught.

The most amazing moment, to me, was when McCain told Rick Warren that he doesn’t consider a person rich until he or she makes over $5 million annually. (Obama put the rich line at $250,00—which is still a figure that most working Americans probably can’t get their minds around, but at least is only a few multiples of their current salary rather than the fantasy-land sum of $5 million.) For McCain, who is already getting knocked for wearing $500 loafers and owning six houses, the $5 million remark seemed like a sloppy self-inflicted wound. (And he knew it the moment that figure left his mouth.)

Second-most amazing moment: When a friend, reminded by McCain’s stone-faced Saddleback promise to chase Osama bin Laden to the “gates of Hell,” showed me an earlier version of the same promise, this one followed by an eerie smile:

RSS icon Comments


The part I could not get over is the total disregard of Article 6 Section 3 of the US Constitution.

But I am one of those CRAZY liberals who believe in the rule of law.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | August 18, 2008 9:33 AM

I haven't been able to study the video, but who exactly laughed first that caused McCain to utter "But seriously..." regarding his $5 million response?

Initially it seemed he gave a serious response, Warren started to chuckle at the idiotic response, and then McCain, realizing he said the wrong thing, added the "but seriously..." part.

Had Warren and the crowd not laughed would he have added that part?

Posted by stinkbug | August 18, 2008 9:42 AM

Also, is there a compilation yet of all the "my friends" from that Warren event?

Posted by stinkbug | August 18, 2008 9:43 AM

Cato, if I vote for or against a candidate based on religion, or lack therof, have I violated the Constitution?

If they took someone's name off the ballot, or impeached or fired them, or refused to let the winning candidate take office due to religion, that would be an unconstitutional religious test. The electorate can do whatever it feels like and doesn't have to answer for it.

Posted by elenchos | August 18, 2008 9:45 AM

McCain strikes me as the least sincere, least honest, least trustworthy person I've ever seen speak.

Posted by Fnarf | August 18, 2008 9:48 AM

@4, you should read the Constitution and stop being stupid. You know EXACTLY the problem this form presented. AND Tony Perkins was very pleased that this happened mentioning that "25 years ago such a forum would have been unthinkable". And it certianly made the founding father puke in their graves.

Posted by Cato the Younger Younger | August 18, 2008 9:49 AM

I stayed home to watch this live, and I wished you were liveblogging.

I pretty much agree with your take on the evening, but I was one of those yelling at the television when McCain was talking. If someone is going to, you know, actually defeat evil I have a feeling that a doddering old warmonger isn't going to be leading the charge with what's left of our armed forces.

All the Jesus talk made me a bit uneasy too, (and the fact that Warren and his church is hostile to teh gays). Warren's comment at the beginning of the program that he believes in the separation of church and state was followed by a two hour contradiction of that statement.

Who knows if anyone lost any votes, but I have a feeling that we'll be seeing that smug grin on Pastor Rick's chubby little face for a long time to come.

Posted by It's Mark Mitchell | August 18, 2008 9:54 AM

I'm sorry, I lost track.

Why were we listening to the religious responses from someone who has cheated many many times on at least two known wives - usually in public?

Yeah, I meant McCain.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 18, 2008 10:02 AM

Sorry, Cato, but no, I don't know what the violation of Article 6 Section 3 was. Who violated it? Please tell me what they did which was a violation. I guess I'm just that stupid that I need to be told what the problem is.

Posted by elenchos | August 18, 2008 10:05 AM

Why were we listening to the religious responses...

Not that it matters much, but for a bit of trivia: McCain mentioned "Jesus" zero times and "God" once (as in "...thank God"). His responses were not really "religious responses".

Posted by stinkbug | August 18, 2008 10:10 AM

1. @4, elenchos is right.

2. Since Slog now commenting on Warren forum glad I mentioned it before it took place; you're all very welcome.

3. Obama didn't win this event, actually, consensus is he lost due to answers being too long, too nuanced and in some cases unprepated. See Chuck Todd at msnbc site.

4. There's this continued tendency to slightly hype Obama still. Thus we've had no discussion of how basically this thing is tied. See

5. Itneresting VP mention today in realclear -- Sam Nunn -- apparently he opposed Iraq war (twice!) and was in forefront of gays in military years ago.

Posted by PC | August 18, 2008 10:16 AM

This was a privately sponsored event. The Constitution, with rare exceptions (e.g., the 13th Amendment), governs governmental action and does not govern private action. This is like arguing that message boards can't censor comments because to do so would impinge on freedom of speech - it's assuming that what is impermissible for the government to do is also impermissible for a private citizen to do. This doesn't mean that you have to think it's a good idea for Saddleback to hold this forum, or that the founders (a bunch of rich slave-owners) would appreciate it, it just means that it is not unconstitutional.

Posted by jon c | August 18, 2008 10:16 AM


Ew. SusanUnPC agreed with me. How do I get this shit stain off?

Posted by elenchos | August 18, 2008 10:20 AM

actually, consensus is he lost due to answers being too long, too nuanced and in some cases unprepated

that's complete crap. there's no consensus that obama "lost".


stop making stuff up. thanks.

Posted by stinkbug | August 18, 2008 10:20 AM

@7 is right...AGAIN!!! (I'm glad you wear your near-papal infallibility so graciously IMM!).

I stayed sober long enough to watch the whole thing. Obama did not blow anything -- although I thought by answering the names of SCOTUS justices they would not have named, they both demeaned themselves. I would have said "With all due respect, Reverend, each sitting justice represents one of the three equal branches of our government so I am going to respect the fact they are seated and leave it at that." That way he could have underscored the fact he does not hunger for a Super-Executive branch and show some class. That said, by naming Clarence Thomas, he was sending a message to the bumpkins that think if Obama is elected, the whole country's gonna be "overrun with uppity colored people."

In all, McCain came out best. Direct, forceful answers that smacked of red meat Conservatism which the audience clearly wanted. Obama is a rambler...he needs to tighten up for the debates.

As for the good Rev'rum, well, you know his plonker was as stiff as the True Cross when he was in the middle for that 3-way photo op...not bad PR for him, that's for sure. And I thought he did a good job, frankly. While I appreciate a thoughtful man of the cloth, I really do much prefer the ones that talk about whores of Babylon and gay-eating hurricanes.

But that's just me.

And Eli, please tell me you plan to Liveslog the debates???

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | August 18, 2008 10:22 AM


If by "best" you mean "most simpleminded", then I agree.

Posted by AMB | August 18, 2008 10:43 AM

Fucking hell. "Marriage is between a man and a woman".

When will this country be mature enough to have an atheist presidential candidate?

Posted by AMB | August 18, 2008 10:46 AM

One of my favorite parts was listening to the different responses from Obama and McCain about a position they held ten years ago that they have since changed their minds on.

Obama talked about welfare reform, explained his old position and exactly why he held it, then explained why he now feels he was wrong.

McCain simply said "Offshore drilling" then went into his stump speech on the topic about drilling right now. No mention of how he used to feel about offshore drilling, why he opposed it, nothing.

Posted by Bont | August 18, 2008 12:22 PM

I'm confused. On difficult moral questions, in what order will Pres. Obama consult his three wise persons -- his typical white grandmother, the then-deceased Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass), and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Batshit)?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | August 18, 2008 12:43 PM

@19: Don't hold your breath waiting for him to call you, asshole.

Posted by Greg | August 18, 2008 1:06 PM

@5 My sentiments exactly!

Posted by Vince | August 18, 2008 1:08 PM

You know, Obama always sounds like he's making an apology instead of a full throated defense of the Constitution.

Posted by Vince | August 18, 2008 2:03 PM

Oh my, I cannot believe you actually have a job. You are absurdly ridiculous and I feel as though I have lost brain cells from actually reading this smut.

Posted by Ryan | August 18, 2008 10:02 PM

I thought the Saddleback debate was a wonderful way to gauge the two candidates and compare them to one another. I also think that Rick Warren did a great job, with balanced and probing questions ... questions which any legitimate candidate for President of the United States should have already wrestled with on his own, way before arriving at this debate. Therefore, why did Obama respond to the questions as if it was the first time he has ever considered these points. John McCain's immediate and decisive answers show that he had already given a great deal of thought to real concerns, as posed in these questions ... where as Obama had to take the time to stutter and deliberate over the same questions asked of McCain. This was very revealing, and so were the Obama camp's accusations of cheating, after Obama lost the debate ... just another indication that Obama is a sore loser who is not qualified to lead this country ... and, McCain is.

Posted by Howard | August 19, 2008 9:05 AM

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