Saddleback Concluding Thoughts
by Nathan Empsall, Sat Aug 16, 2008 at 06:06:54 PM EDT
MSNBC just made an interesting point: McCain did not mention God or Jesus once in the entire debate. But now Pat Buchanan is coming on, so I'd better turn the TV off.
The much ballyhooed Saddleback Church faith forum with McCain and Obama is now over. You can read my liveblog of both interviews with Pastor Rick Warren below. Overall, I'd sum it up this way: Obama had a better night, but not enough to matter.
People looking for policy specific will say McCain won. Obviously, most of his content was wrong, but he still had lots of content on education, Georgia, taxes, and more. If you don't know the issues, he comes across as better on them. Obama, however, was stronger on issues of faith and character. He was more forthcoming about his own faith and was very personal. His candor about his own past selfishness was downright inspiring. McCain showed candor with his stories about being a POW, but the entire night, his voice had an edgy tone to it, whereas Obama was warm and inviting, something that goes over very well in the nonideological evangelical churches like Warren's.
I think both had a positive performance. Obama's was better, and probably more tailored to the specific audience. It certainly didn't seem forced. However, given that this is an audience likely leaning towards McCain to begin with, Obama may have allayed some fears, but I don't think he overcame the gap. In short, he won a non-event.
As for Warren himself, I generally respect him and there will be a heavy focus on him in my upcoming senior thesis on the changing religious right, but I wasn't that impressed tonight. He was as good as any other forum moderator we've seen, but that's not saying much. It was great to have issues like human trafficking and orphans get some attention for once, and it was a breath of fresh air to finally have a moderator not get bogged down on nonissues like lapel pins - in fact, he started the evening out with a salute to BOTH men's patriotism, something the World Magazine crowd needed to hear. However, he could have done a better job of keeping McCain on track, perhaps with more specific questions rather than vague generalities, and as a person of faith whose career path lies in the church, I really wish he had brought up poverty and the environment.
If you tuned in, you saw one of the more substantive discussions of the election so far, but if you watched the Olympics instead, you didn't miss anything.
Update 10:10 pm: Whoops, before I forget. I should add that at least I'm glad the event was held. One other thing I wish Warren had asked is, "What is the proper role of faith in politics? What role should it play in your own decision process, and what role do you think faith-based lobbyists should play?" Or perhaps, "Both of you are Christians. What do you believe Jesus says about authority and power?" He came sort of close by asking about faith-based initiative funding. My own interest, as a likely future pastor and someone whose past jobs and internships are almost entirely with the Democratic Party or The Episcopal Church, is in the intersection of faith and politics. This would have been a homerun question for some in the target audience, given the role the "Emerging Christian" movement, led by folks like Brian McClaren and Tony Campolo, is playing in helping to broaden the evangelical focus.