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Well, here’s my ultimate take on the whole thing.

I think Obama is a well-spoken man who is at ease with himself. On the stump, I’ve found him to be rather haughty and arrogant — the accusation of messiah-complex that is often leveled at him is not without warrant. But tonight, he was self-effacing, conversational, friendly, likable. I can understand why people are taken with him.

If you listen to him carefully enough, however, you hear inconsistencies that cast doubt on the steadiness of his core principles. Recall that when he had to distance himself from Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his speech more or less threw his grandmother under the bus as a knee-jerk racist after the fashion of “typical white people” (Obama attempted to do damage control on that comment after the fact, but not successfully IMHO). Contrast that with tonight, when he told Rick Warren that his grandmother is one of the great sages in his life. I’m confused…

Plus, I just find the lion’s share of his thinking and politics noxious. The guy’s a socialist — no two ways about it. His discussion of the Supreme Court’s role was just plain weird (I wanted to say inane, but let’s be charitable), and his position on abortion is essentially a punt on the central human rights issue so he can maintain a politically expedient pro-choice posture (too bad those in the womb can’t vote).

Turning to McCain, readers of my blog know that I’m not his biggest fan. Campaign finance reform was nothing short of a brazen assault on the First Amendment. He was the chief champion of that legislation, and it flies in the face of the oath a president takes to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, he’s been a sell-out on immigration reform (or, more precisely, amnesty for illegal aliens). So I’m predisposed to being extraordinarily skeptical of McCain as a presidential candidate.

That said, he is a consistently pro-life candidate, which is important to me. The annual slaughter of 40 million unborn babies is nothing short of a modern holocaust of shocking proportions, and IT MUST END. I could never, in good conscience, vote for someone who is pro-choice. And he does hold to a number of conservative issues (keeping taxes low, tough stance on national security, constitutionalist judges, etc.). From my perspective, he’s definitely preferable to Sen. Obama.

I thought McCain did pretty well tonight, although I found him stiff at times (especially when he discussed his personal faith). And he seemed to revert here and there to stump speech mode, something I think Obama avoided more successfully. Even so, I think McCain came across in a surprisingly warm, engaging fashion (as opposed to some stoic, old fart of a curmudgeonly war hero). In any case, in a contest of substance versus fluff, McCain won hands down. His black eyes: a rambling, non-answer on privacy vs. security; no clear enunciation of policy with respect to when and how much America should act as world policeman.

I’d like to express my appreciation to Rick Warren and Saddleback for a number of things:

  • Thanks for hosting this forum. It was very informative, and I think it gave us a good glimpse into the minds and hearts of the candidates. I appreciate you taking the lead on forging a dialogue between the candidates and the faith community
  • Thanks, Rick, for asking tough questions that the media will typically shy away from (especially with respect to Obama). I think it was apropos and fair for each candidate to be asked the same set of questions.
  • I really appreciated the judicious avoidance of direct questions about climate change. I still maintain that Rick Warren is grievously in error for embracing pop global warming theory, and I was really glad not to have to listen to such poppycock tonight. Looking forward to Rick’s own “wise flip-flop” on this issue.

With my commentary (mostly) out of the way, here’s what I captured of the forum.

8:04 p.m.

Question segment #1 is going to deal with leadership issues.

First question to Barack has to deal with the three wisest people who have influenced him.

His answer:

  • His wife. She’s both wise and honest.
  • His grandmother. (Would this be the typically white racist grandmother he’s alluded to in previous public gaffes?)
  • Cites Ted Kennedy as an influence in domestic policy (YUCK!). Wants a forum of advisors that have a breadth of views. (I guess this means they would span from left-center to moonbat. 🙂

Rick Warren (RW): What is the greatest moral failure of your life, and of America?

Barack Obama (BO): Difficult youth. Experimented with drugs. Associates struggles as a young man with selfishness — so preoccupied with his own dissatisfaction that he couldn’t see the needs of others. (A candid answer, I think.) America’s greatest moral failure in his lifetime is its failure to abide by the precept of doing good to “the least of one’s brethren.” Applies to poverty, racism, sexism, and not providing ladders of opportunity.

RW: Common ground and common good. Did you ever go against party loyalty and self-interest in the interest of America?

BO: Cites campaign finance reform. (Blech. This is a terrible example, as it stomps brazenly all over the First Amendment. Sorry, Barack — not in the best interest of the country.)

RW: What’s the most significant position you’ve held that you ended up changing your mind on?

BO: Welfare reform. Felt that welfare had to be changed, but was concerned that the bill Bill Clinton signed would prove disastrous. But it worked better than anticipated. Convinced that work is the centerpiece of social policy. Provides a sense of both purpose and community. (Obama is to applauded here — too bad this philosophy doesn’t filter into the rest of his policy ideas.)

RW: What’s the most gut-wrenching decision you had to make, and how did you process that?

BO: Cites his anti-war stance. (I find this to be a disingenuous answer. Hindsight is 20/20, Barack. He’s touting his vaunted prescience with respect to the Iraq war being ill-conceived and unjust. He said he had doubts with respect to WMD from the outset. So even though Russia, France, Britain, Israel, and the US all had intelligence on Saddam’s WMD program, you were singularly discerning — above and beyond the intelligence capabilities of multiple nations. Stop insulting my IQ. Barack’s anti-war stance is grounded in ideology before evidence, and as such it was not a gut-wrenching decision at all.)

Commercial break

8:20 p.m.

Rick warren asked Obama about his faith. He’s professing that Jesus died for his sins, but says that “hopefully” his sins will be washed away. (“Hopefully” isn’t exactly the orthodox Christian position on the efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice, but we won’t quibble too much right now.)

Rick says that he’s getting to the “tough” questions.

Abortion! Rick says he has to deal with this issue all the time. Cites the statistic of 40 million abortions per year. At what point does a gestating baby get human rights? (Yay! I’m so glad he asked this question!)

BO: States that deciding when a gestating baby is fully human is “above my pay grade.” He’s pro-choice, believes in Roe v. Wade — not because he believes in abortion, but because he doesn’t think women make the decision to have an abortion casually. Says the goal should be to reduce the # of abortions.

RW: Has Obama ever voted to limit or reduce the # of abortions?

BO: He’s against late-term abortion. If you believe that life begins at conception, he can’t argue. But he can say, “Can we work together to reduce the # of unwanted pregnancies?” How do we provide resources that allow a woman to keep a child? (I think these are specious, or at least tertiary questions — is abortion wrong or not? If wrong, it should be outlawed, plain and simple).

RW: Define marriage.

BO: Marriage is the union between a man and a woman. As a Christian, it’s a sacred union. God’s in the mix.

RW: Would you support constitutional protection for that definition of marriage?

BO: No. Historically, we haven’t defined marriage federally. It’s a state issue.

Interrupted by first-born son asking to watch a movie. Actually, he climbed on my head. Hang on…

8:40 p.m.

RW: Define rich.

BO: $150k/yr. down is middle class to poor. $250k/yr. and above is rich. (What about $151k/yr. to $249k/yr?). $150k/yr. and below will see a tax cut under his plan. Asserts again that $250k+/yr. is “rich.” (He still hasn’t addressed that apparent no-man’s land between $150k and $250k/yr. Does he realize that?)

Obama’s answers on the purpose of the Supreme Court and which justice he wouldn’t nominate were — well — strange. It’s designed only to limit the power of the chief executive? Huh? What about 9th grade civics — highest body in the judicial branch, created to interpret and clarify law, and all that? And Barack’s assessment of Clarence Thomas was essentially that he is a dunce and therefore unworthy of being on the court. He wouldn’t nominate Scalia just because they disagree (what are the nature of those disagreements, Barack?), and he doesn’t like the way John Roberts presides over the court because he’s too compliant vis-a-vis the Oval Office. Sorry folks, but this is pablum. And he accuses Justice Thomas of thoughtlessness…

RW: There are 148 million orphans in the world. They don’t need to be in orphanages. They need to be in families. Would there be a willingness to create an emergency plan for orphans?

BO: Thinks it’s a great idea. Wants to work with international organizations. Part of the plan needs to be preventing unwanted children with good health care (my hunch is that this means Planned Parenthood style solutions in Barack speak).

RW: What should we do about religious persecution?

BO: Cites our complex relationship with China — they’re a trading partner, but they are actively engaged in persecuting people of faith. We need to “bear witness” and “speak out.” We also need to lead by example. (Ugh. He’s turning this into an anti-Gitmo rant. Can we stay on the subject?) We can’t talk about religious persecution when Gitmo exists. (Dangblasted moral equivalence at work. As though Gitmo and sending Christians to labor camps are the same thing. Gimme a break.)

RW: Why do you want to be president?

BO: (This is The MonT-SteR’s interpretation of what he said.) Basically, we’re only great to the degree that we’re socialist (disguised cleverly in language of empathy). That’s why he wants the office, so he can turn us more in that direction. No thanks, Barack. Just say no to Marx and Lenin.

Next up, McCain’s turn. Rather than type out RW’s questions, I’m just going to organize it topically.

9:04 p.m.

McCain on Leadership

Wise leaders he’d depend on:

  • General Patraeus — great military leader. Took us from defeat to victory.
  • John Lewis — (I don’t know who this is…)
  • Meg Whitman — CEO of eBay.

McCain’s greatest moral failure. First marriage. America, throughout her existence, has not always served interest beyond her own, although she’s been the best at it in the world.

McCain led against party’s interest and his own best interest on climate change, spending, tort reform, etc. The most trying was when he was first in Congress, Reagan wanted to send Marines to Beirut in a peace-keeping mission. He opposed Reagan, and the marines ended up getting bombed.

McCain’s most significant reasoned flip-flop: Off-shore drilling. He knows that people disagree, but states that it’s a national security issue. We’re sending $700 billion to parties in the world who don’t have our best interests at heart. We can’t allow that. We need to have a multi-faceted, broad-based approach to energy policy and reform.

Most gut-wrenching decision: When McCain was in prison camp. Was going to be released, but refused. Was the toughest decision he made. Took lots of prayer.

Next up, worldview issues.

McCain on Worldview

Talks about his faith. Mentions salvation and forgiveness through Christ in about four words, seems very uncomfortable. Mentions that Christian faith embraces the world. (Hope that is a confession of mankind’s universal need for Christ rather than theological universalism….) Falls into a story about Christmas in his POW camp, how when he was allowed to stand outside his cell on Christmas day, a guard came and drew a cross in the dirt. It was a special moment when enemy combatants were merely two Christians joining in worship in a dark place.

Abortion — McCain states that a baby has human rights at the moment of conception. Has a 25-year pro-life record. Will be a pro-life president with pro-life policies.

Marriage — Union between one man and one woman. People can enter into legal agreements and so forth (parallel to Obama’s support for civil unions). If the courts attempted to force unilateral recognition of same-sex marriage, at that point McCain supports a Constitutional amendment.

Stem cells — very great struggle and dilemma for the pro-life community. McCain wants stem cell research, but very optimistic about adult stem cell research. As it progresses, the debate will be moot.

Does evil exist? Yes — it needs to be defeated. He’s going to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. Transcendent battle of the 21st century is the struggle between the West and extremist, radical Islam. It is palpably evil and must be defeated.

McCain says he would not have nominated Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, and Stevens. President’s responsibility is great. Nomination should be based on proven record and constitutional perspective (not legislating from the bench). Proud of Bush for nominating Roberts and Alito.

On faith-based organizations: Can faith-based organizations hire those who adhere to their belief system? (Barack felt that they could not if receiving federal funds.) McCain says yes — to require otherwise is to cripple the organization itself.

Education — should there be merit pay for the best teachers? Yes. Choice and competition is the solution. Vouchers work. Home schooling works (yes!). Charter schools work. Choice and competition is a simple solution, but it has the potential to reform our education system. This is the civil rights issue of the 21st century — sending children to failing schools is unjust.

Taxation — McCain’s wants everybody to get wealthy. Doesn’t believe in taking the money of the rich. Small business owners work hard, and are classified as rich. But raising taxes on them would be onerous and damage the economy. Jokes that $5 million/yr. is the cut-off for “rich,” and acknowledges that he’s probably going to be taken out of context for that comment. Joked sardonically about spending $3 million of federal money on a DNA study of bears in Montana — was that a paternity issue or a criminal issue? It’s funny, but it isn’t. During hard economic times, that kind of spending should be eradicated.

When our right to privacy and national security collide, what takes precedence? Mentions right to privacy with respect to union ballots (to eliminate intimidation). (Mm. McCain’s answer is rambling here. Nothing substantive — he’s ranting about political infighting. Acknowledges the tension, but doesn’t present any solutions or coherent method of handling the question RW put to him. Sorry Sen. McCain, you blew it on this one….)

Commercial break — I have to say thus far that I’ve found McCain far more substantive. He got stiff when he talked about his own faith life and what Christianity means to him (I think that makes him uncomfortable). Obama was far more comfortable discussing his faith. But Obama really is all about feel-good fluff. So far, McCain is (for the most part) giving more cogent answers. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting that.

9:40 p.m.

McCain on America’s Responsibility to the World

Freedom is worth dying for. There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world, so we can’t possibly remedy everything. America’s most precious commodity is her blood. We’ve shed our blood for others in a way no other nation has. Just as we defeated communism, we can defeat radical Islam. RW asks when we should intervene in situations like Darfour, Georgia, etc. McCain says that we need to stop genocide whenever we can (but particularly when it’s in the interest of our national security). We need to marshal world forces. RW mentions that Russia is reasserting itself in Georgia and Poland, asks McCain to comment. He mentions the bloodshed and suffering, saddened by Russia’s behavior. Mentions that Georgia was one of the earliest Christian nations. Georgian President was educated in the U.S., returned to forge a successful democracy. We need to not only negotiate a cease-fire, but insist that Georgia’s territorial integrity be respected. It wasn’t an accident that the presidents of other former Eastern Bloc countries flew to Georgia to show solidarity. This conflict is also about Russian control over energy. We need to send a message to the Russians that such behavior is not acceptable. (Unfortunately, McCain doesn’t outline quite what that message should be beyond angry denunciations. A little fluff here….)

On religious persecution — use the bully pulpit. Cites Reagan’s example (he called the Soviets the evil empire, called upon them to tear down the Berlin wall). Judeo-Christian principles dictate that we help the oppressed in the world. Knows first-hand the price and preciousness of freedom.

Why he wants to be President: Wants to inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves. Time to unify the country. America wants hope and optimism. Wants people who won’t vote for him to know that he’ll be their president as well.


aka The MonT-SteR