2008 Thoughts on Saddleback
posted by August 18 at 9:25 AMon
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: