Monday, August 18, 2008

Saddleback : a smart pundit’s take

Janet Daley writes for the Daily Telegraph, often on the American political scene. She’s smart, lucid, and independent.

About a year ago, when Sen. Clinton appeared the inevitable Dem nominee and everyone was wondering whether Sen. McCain could keep his campaign going for another month or two, Daley analyzed our presidential nomination process and the two parties’ candidates.

Her conclusions: She assured her readers the nominees would be Sens. McCain and Obama.

Her column today offers her take on Saddleback. IMO it’s accurate, insightful, and the best analysis I’ve read of what happened at Saddleback and why.

Excerpts for Daley's column - - -

Last Saturday night, the two contenders appeared on a platform together for the first time - not to engage in a formal presidential debate which would have been improper since neither has been formally nominated as yet, but to participate in a novel format staged by the Saddleback Church, one of the largest evangelical congregations in America.

Saddleback is a moderate outfit and its pastor, Reverend Rick Warren, is a famously benign and tolerant figure. He called his event a "civil forum" and stated specifically that his intention in chairing it was to restore civility to political discourse. He was scrupulously fair and courteous to both presumptive candidates, to whom he put the identical questions in separate interviews (out of each other's hearing).

It was, as the commentator Charles Krauthammer said afterwards, a brilliant "controlled experiment" in which both men were subjected to identical examinations in identical conditions. I stayed up to watch the whole two hours of it between 1am and 3am. It was as illuminating as any political event I have ever witnessed.

Mr Obama came first. He was, as we have come to expect, articulate, engaging and very relaxed ("comfortable in his skin", as is often said). He responded with charm if some ambiguousness to the tricky questions that arose on the evangelical heartland issues, most notably abortion, on which he is pro-choice.

But the most interesting aspects of his performance (especially in retrospect when we had heard McCain) lay in what he did not say.

Asked whether he thought that evil existed and, if so, what should be done about it, he replied that it did and that we had to confront it "on our streets". The only international reference that he made in this answer was to Darfur. There was no mention of al-Qaeda, Russia or Georgia.

In another answer, he described the most significant moral failing of the United States as not getting to grips with domestic poverty, racism and sexism.

Asked to define the "rich" whom he has said should pay more tax so that government can improve society, he offered a figure of $250,000 a year. His performance was attractive and fluent in its own terms.

But within moments of McCain appearing to face the same queries, the Obama poise looked positively laconic and the Obama answers insubstantial. Where he had glided through the session with glib personableness, McCain electrified the hall. His answers were direct, detailed and full of the personal anecdote that his life experience has to offer.

Asked the question about evil, he cited al-Qaeda and Islamic extremism. (He would, he said, pursue Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell if necessary.)

America had a moral obligation to defeat genocide wherever it occurred, and he was "very saddened by Russia's re-emergence as an empire". Georgia had achieved democracy and deserved our support.

On the definition of "rich", he said that he did not want to raise taxes for anyone in tough economic times. He made it clear, too, that he supported education vouchers to allow poor children greater opportunity.

Both men answered the question, "What is worth risking lives for?", with the word "freedom", but it was McCain whose memories gave it force.

Ironically, the man whose age is thought to be a liability seemed more energetic and robust than his rival, whose cool sophistication looked somehow inappropriate for the times.

Daley’s entire column’s here.


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the way that program was constructed. Both candidates were able to give answers to questions without being interrupted.
McCain was at his best that night.

John, you need to start reading some of the stuff at this place. It's a real trip down leftist lane.

Danvers said...


USA Today/NBC is reporting that Obama Aides are claiming that John McCain had been able to listen to Obama's discussion with Rev. Rick Warren, prior to his interview.

If you lose, blame your opponent for cheating! How utterly predictable