I watched both hours of the presidential forum held at Saddleback Church Saturday evening. I must admit that going into it, I was not confident that the pastor, Rick Warren, would really ask the tough questions, especially the types of questions I would like to have asked. Prior to the event, Warren had commented that he was not going to focus on typical evangelical concerns such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Yet he did address those issues and sought to draw out answers from both candidates. Beyond those particular issues, he offered a broad range of worldview and policy questions that helped to flesh out what both men really believed.
This was probably the best arrangement for explaining views that I have witnessed in presidential debate history. The usual debate is an attempt to answer in two minutes or 30 seconds what might require greater explanation. In the typical debate, each person just wants to get in his talking points, regardless of the question being asked. Have you ever noticed how that works?
In this forum, Obama had to acknowledge his belief in Roe v. Wade. Asked the deeper question, “At what point does a baby have rights?” he fell back on the vagueness of how complex is the issue of when life begins. He then said that answering such a question was above his pay grade. Now, while that might sound humble, it is merely punting. He doesn’t want to grapple with that issue.
McCain, on the other hand, when asked the same question, stated without hesitation, “at the moment of conception.” In fact, he was quite impressive, I thought, in most of his answers. I say that as someone who was not thrilled with his capturing of the Republican nomination. Saturday night, for the first time, I sensed in him a little bit of Reagan, who had optimism in the future of America, and who had firmly held principles. It remains to be seen if McCain stays on track, but this forum was a good start.
Warren did an exemplary job of moderating this evening of conversation. He did not overshadow either candidate, giving them both the opportunity to say whatever they wanted without feeling rushed. As more than one of the commentators afterward said, this was the best forum for a presidential contest they had ever witnessed.