Liveblogging Warren and Obama
by Nathan Empsall, Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 04:13:09 PM EDT
Since Todd's taping the Rick Warren religious forum, I'll go ahead and do some sparse liveblogging, as readers of my personal blog will know I am acutely interested in the intersection of faith and politics.
8:11: Pastor Warren just asked Obama about his greatest personal moral failing, and the biggest moral failing of the nation. In a remarkably personal answer that I give huge marks for candor, Obama discussed his past drug and alcohol use, and chalked it up to selfishness. As for the larger country, he said it is that we fail to live up to Matthew 25, which says that whatever we do to the least of these, we do to Christ. This answer impresses me because Obama specifically quoted it as Matthew and yes, it is Matthew 25, but at the Dartmouth debate last September, Edwards said it wasn't a single verse, but just a general theme. So Obama is already demonstrating an excellent grasp of Christian issues that national Democrats often have a hard time showing.
8:17: Pastor Warren: what's the most gut-wrenching decision you've ever had to make? Obama: opposing the war in Iraq, "not just because of the political consequences but because Saddam Hussein was a really bad person, and there was no doubt he meant America ill." But experts had tough questions, such as what will the postwar look like, and those unanswered questions bothered Obama. I have to wonder, do you think he planned to try and slip in an Iraq answer early? I might have thought that issues surrounding Trinity and his personal minister would be more gut-wrenching for a progressive like Obama...
First commercial break. Coming up, worldview.
8:10: While we're on commercial, some general thoughts: One, I'm thrilled Warren will ask identical questions of both candidates. That wasn't done at the primary-season Compassion Forum with Obama and Clinton, and it really bugged me. Two, Warren is already showing more responsibility than the MSM by acknowledging that both candidates are patriots. And three, is there anyone else who could get both candidates to show up? Combine that with Obama's half-joke about seeking Warren's advice as president, I have to wonder - is Rick Warren the new Billy Graham?
8:21: Warren is talking about worldview. I wish he'd more specifically defined the word, as I've heard multiple definitions from it within faith communities. Anyways, Obama is talking about what Christianity means to him. He leads off with "Jesus Christ died for my sins" and says "I do not walk alone with him," and elaborates on sins being "washed away." That is not a universal Christian approach, but it is one the evangelical and black communities embrace. Obama adds that Christianity brings along not just a personal sense of purity and piety, but also obligation to "walk humbly" and show mercy and reach out to "the least of these," and be willing to correct course when wrong - "That didn't quite work out the way it should have, but maybe I can try a little better. That gives me the confidence to try things, like run for President." If he really wanted to hit a homerun with evangelicals, he would have added that Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation. But maybe this really is personal, not political.
8:24: Warren: Abortion. When does a baby get human rights? Obama: That question, either scientifically or theologically, is "above my paygrade." But he is convinced that there is a moral element to the issue, and anyone who denies its difficulty isn't paying attention. BUT, he is indeed pro-choice, not because he is pro-abortion, but "Because I don't think women come to these decisions casually." Women, he said, do wrestle with the issues and seek wise counsel. Home-run, I'd say, especially since he goes on to talk about respecting pro-lifers as people coming from a faith position and speaks to the importance of reducing the number of abortions. The rest of you won't like this, and I try not to talk about this here and I will not address it in the comment section, but here's a confession for you: I'm actually pro-life, possibly because of my adoption. I don't vote on it and I don't care much about it, but it is where I stand. So trust me when I say, if any pro-choice answer would reach out to the pro-life community, it was this one.
8:27: Marriage. Big applause line when he says marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and a smaller applause when he says God is in the mix. Also small applause when he says gay marriage is a state issue, not a Constitutional issue. I'm a little disappointed in Warren for bringing up these two issues so quickly. As an active lay leader in The Episcopal Church career plans for eventual priesthood, one of my main concerns is broadening the church's focus, and the non-church's perception of the church, to poverty, the environment, oppression, and social/economic justice. Sure, these hot-topic issues have to be addressed, but couldn't they have been saved for last?
8:31: They talked about stem cells, but I was focused on my pasta (late dinner). Next question: Does evil exist, and if it does, do we ignore, contain, or defeat it? Obama: It does exist. We see it in Darfur, on the streets of our cities, and in parents who viciously abuse their children. We can't erase evil in the world, that's God's job, but we can be soldiers in that process. It is important that we have humility in the issue of confronting evil: "A lot of evil has been perpetrated base don the claim that we were trying to defeat evil... in the name of good." He should have quoted Lincoln: let's not pray that God is on our side, but that we are on God's side.
8:33: The Courts. Here's an interesting twist: Which existing SC judge would you NOT have nominated? Obama: gets applause for saying 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 facts that I profoundly disagree with" his Constitutional views. Also, not Scalia, "because he and I just disagree." John Roberts was tougher (really? you would even consider nominating a conservative, even a respectful one?), although he's been lacking since he took the bench. One of the Court's most important jobs is protecting separation of powers, and Roberts has been too eager to give POTUS more power than the Constitution intended. Did anyone read Slate's analysis of Obama's tests as a law professor at Chicago?
8:35: Warren: 80% of Americans think faith groups do a better job with fighting poverty, prison recidivism, etc. Would you insist they forfeit the right to federal funds? Obama: You know I gave a speech this summer supporting those funds! I got my start out of college working with churches, "I know the power of faith-based institutions to get stuff done." Reminds me of my time in New Orleans where the churches stood where the govenrment did (and does) not, but I digress. 8:38: Warren cites Katrina, saying don't I have the right to only hire relief workers that believe like I do? (Personal plug, most of the Episcopal rebuild staff when I was there were not Episcopal workers. Again, I digress, but hey, my blogging activism has its roots in Katrina, you can't blame me.) Obama argues that hiring rules would only affect the programs that recieve federal funding, not other programs.
8:39: Do you believe in merit pay? Obama: I've said it before, yes. (Shades of Matt Santos...) It shouldn't be based on whims or on a single test, and the system should be set up working with teachers. All teachers should get paid more, but we should also "reward excellence."
8:40: Warren: "Define rich." He wants a number - $50k? $100k? Obama: "If you've got book sales of $25 million..." Laughter. Warren: "Hahaha, I'm not asking about ME!" But ok, serious stuff. Obama: If you are making $150k a year or less as a family, then you're middle class or poor, with allowances for region. More than $250k, "Then you're in the top 3, 4 percent of this country, you're doing well." This is true, and a point I wished more folks in that bracket realized. Heck, even folks making $100k are in the top 20%. Anyways, Obama said we do have to pay for education, roads, etc. "I believe it is irresponsible, intergenerationally, for us to invest or to spend $10 billion on a war and not have a way of paying for it." This is why we need taxes. But, the tax code also needs more fairness and simplicity.
As a 21 year old kid, I say: thank you. The deficit ticks me off like nothing else. It's not fair to me, my generation, or those younger than me. But let's start paying that more than lip service.
8:43: Commercial break. Asking Obama what defines rich brings to mind a lot of faith issues for me, a proponent of (non-violent, Latin American) liberation theology, but one in particular stands out. In modern times, the President of the United States IS Caesar. To Jesus and the Jewish peasents of the first century, the Caesars were tyrants, oppressive overlords manipulating local politics and implementing systems of debt. Christ frequently spoke to the responsible use of power, and to what people should do when their leaders do not exercise power. To a Gospel-based Christian, the invocation of Caesar and of power should have serious consequences. I say all this because both Obama and McCain call themselves Christians. Do you think they've ever equated themselves to the original Caesar, and thought about the responsibility that puts on their shoulders?
8:47: War. As an American, what's worth dying for and sacrificing lives for? Obama: American freedom. I was just on vacation, and visited my grandfather's grave, then went to the Arizona in Pearl Harbor, and was reminded of past sacrifices and the "solemn obligation that we all have." Warren: When do you go to war? Obama: It's not a line in the sand, it's always a judgment call. But an international component is always important - not that that means UN approval, but a strong international case should still be made. Cites Bosnia.
8:49: Warren: 148 million orphans in the world. Would you consider or commit to an emergency plan for orphans like what Bush has done for AIDS? Obama: I "cheated" and looked at this idea beforehand, and I think it's great and worth looking at, but part of the plan should be getting to the root of the problem, how do we prevent more orphans in the first place? The answer is building health infrastructure around the world, and while I'm a critic of Bush, he deserves credit for PEPFAR saving lives. (applause)
8:51: Religious persecution. How will you end it in Iraq and elsewhere, not just against Christianity but against millions? Obama: let's bear witness, speak out, not pretend it's not happening. China is now a lender to us because we're not taking care of our economy. None of us want military conflict with China, and we want them as a full partner, but we can't ignore the religious persecution and prosecution that happens there. Over time, we'll set up new norms and a universal principle to protect people's faiths and beliefs, and lead by example. Led's abide by rule of law, and habeus corpus, and not engage in torture. Then we'll have a moral standing.
8:53: Human trafficking is the world's third largest industry. What are you going to do? Obama: This needs to be a priority, and we need better methods of prosecution. Even in our country, thousands are trapped in slavery. We've got to give prosecutors the tools, and internationally, we must speak out and forge alliances and share intelligence. I'm thrilled Warren asked this, it's one of my top ten issues and it doesn't get nearly enough attention.
8:55: In one minute, why do you want to be President? Obama: My grandmother got the angriest at me when I was mean to people, and taught me empathy. That notion, that everybody's got a shot and that we care for the kids who can't pay for college too, is America at its best. That dream is slipping away, and we are at a critical juncture. We keep putting off the tough decisions, and Washington is so broken that we can't bring people together to solve problems. I can build bridges and try to solve things. Wild applause.
8:56: Warren: Last question. What do you say to people who oppose me asking these questions? Obama: These are the kinds of forums we need. We need conversations, and based on these conversations people can tell if you're a person of good judgment. We want people to have good information, not thirty second ads. This is his first real dodge of the evening. Warren was asking about faith and politics and Obama ducked it, but then again, Warren could have been more direct.