Michael Reagan and me on the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Saddleback Civil Forum (My Observations)

Pastor Rick Warren hosted presidential candidates Barack Hussein Obama and John McCain during a two-hour Saddleback Civil Forum held at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Pastor Warren asked Obama questions during the first hour, and a session with McCain followed. Below are my observations about questions both candidates had opportunities to address.

Obama offered long-winded answers where he tried to be all things to all people and not offend anybody. McCain showed his true grit with succinct responses followed by anecdotes as time permitted thus allowing to public to see exactly where they stood on the issues and let the chips fall where they may.

This was Obama's first high-profile public appearance after his week long Hawaiian vacation. He appeared first and though apparently in good spirits and rested, Obama was curiously listless, uninspiring. I found Obama's quite simply boring with his legalistic, impersonal responses to deeply personal, profound – and fair – questions from Pastor Rick Warren. McCain, in contrast, was crisp, funny, relaxed, focused, and seemingly genuine. At 71, McCain's energy onstage easily eclipsed the sleepy, Ben Stienish professorial manner of Obama.

McCain was specific and personal in discussing ideas and himself; Obama droned on in stutter- filled generalized, boilerplate banalities that shed no light on the nature of the man speaking. McCain could barely wait for Warren to finish his questions before pouncing and demonstrating an ease in wrapping his mind around any topic; Obama stuttered haltingly, like a drunken buffoon through his hour proving he is is totally lost without a teleprompter. Obama's detachment making him appear more like a merely below-average law professor.

A clear moral center and a clear set of governing principles seemed to emerge organically from McCain, whereas I got the sense that Obama is more comfortable with spirituality and morality as an abstract, intellectual zone where there is no wrong or right, merely a variety of interesting arguments.

When asked what faith in Jesus means to him Obama said something that fascinated me (something many might have missed). After describing himself as a Christian and outlining his beliefs, he said his “…sins, hopefully, will be washed away.” Most Bible-believing Christians, myself included, would say our “…sins are washed away.” Obama bunted this softball question. McCain hit a home run when asked the same thing, McCain replied, "Means I'm saved and forgiven. Our faith encompasses not just America but the world."

McCain got teary-eyed while discussing an experience with a guard during his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. The guard, McCain said, drew a cross in the sand while he was praying on Christmas Day. "For a minute there, we were just two Christians worshipping together."

When it came to describing a gut-wrenching decision in his life, Obama lied and described the process via which he arrived at his vote against going to war in Iraq. I guess he thought few people would catch the fact that he was not in the US Senate when the war started. Conversely, McCain described a decision made while incarcerated as a prisoner of war in Vietnam where he passed up the chance for early release as a POW and stuck to the Code of Conduct.

The topic of abortion produced answers that said a lot about the candidates. After Obama described his faith journey, he claimed he was pro-choice. And when asked a question about abortion (i.e., “At what point does a baby get human rights?”), he said, “Answering that question with specifics is above my pay-grade,” before going on to describe how he favors reducing the number of abortions. When asked whether he had ever voted to reduce abortions, his dance around the question equated to saying, “No.”

Conversely, McCain answered the baby human rights question in one word — “Conception!” — before going on to say he would be a staunch pro-life president.

Both candidates defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Obama opposed a Constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage. McCain said he would only push for such an amendment if states rights on the matter were threatened (i.e., a federal court holds Massachusetts law up as a standard other states must follow).

Both candidates answered the stem cell debate question in opposition to my evangelical conservative viewpoint, but hid behind “This is a tough issue” and “This is a terrible dilemma” rhetoric.

When asked if evil exists and, if so, what should we do about it, Obama answered like a politician. McCain said, “Defeat it!” and then went on to pledge how he would find Osama bin Laden if it meant following him to the gates of hell. He also identified the elephants in the room — Radical Islamic extremists and Al-Qaeda — that Obama ignored.

Asked which Supreme Court justice he would not have nominated as president, Obama said he would not have nominated Justice Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court of the United States. He explained that he did not think Thomas was a strong enough legal thinker. He also added that he didn’t agree with Justices Antonin Scalia and John Roberts, though the latter was “compelling, smart and thoughtful.”

McCain answered the same question in a more-succinct manner, naming Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens as four he would not have nominated.

Questions about whether faith-based organizations should qualify for federal funding if they didn’t hire staff per guidelines of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Obama expressed worry about discrimination occurring. McCain highlighted the work of faith-based organizations in post-Katrina New Orleans as being more productive than government agencies and said he believed they should received federal funding.

In general, both candidates seemed to express support for merit pay for teachers. But McCain won this one. Obama said he would set up a merit pay system and involve teachers in the process. (That way he didn't upset the teacher's unions). McCain said we should find bad teachers another line of work and asked, “What kind of opportunity is it if we send (kids) to a failing school?”

Asked to define “rich,” Obama put a dollar amount — $150,000 — on it. (If $150,000 is Rich , then, I must be upper middle class. So why can't I afford a house? Obama means returning to the days of Jimmy Carter.) McCain reminded me of my hero Ronald Reagan when he said it’s not for him to define what being rich is. It’s up to him to NOT raise taxes and offer tax breaks.

Questions about the United States’ role in the world generated similar Washington, D.C. answers. McCain was able to say we should safeguard freedom with a sense of purpose Obama did not offer that kind of vow citing personal experience of having lived without freedom during a season of his life.

The only thing in the candidates’ answers to questions about ending genocide and religious persecution that struck me as noteworthy was one of Obama's major gaffs. That gaff being: When asked by host Pastor Rick Warren about whether he would ever commit American troops to stop a genocide without the approval of the United Nations, Obama said yes--and cited Bosnia as an example in which America acted alone.

Er... wrong!

By the time the United States intervened in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR)--established by UN Security Council Resolution 743--had been involved (rather dismally) for three years.

In 1994 and again in 1995, the UN Security council authorized the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to intervene--and the U.S., working within NATO, did so. The UN effectively transferred its authority to NATO via the multinational military implementation force (IFOR) in Security Council Resolution 1031.

Some might consider this a minor mistake, but it underlines Obama's ignorance about history--even recent history, during a time when he had already begun his public political career. And it is increasingly relevant as Russian aggression continues against Georgia.

The next time Obama falsely claims that McCain once confused Sunni and Shia in Iraq (he didn't), perhaps he should be reminded of this glaring factual error.

Also Noetwworthy was McCain’s answer to Pastor Warren’s question about helping orphans around the world. Using few words, he described his wife Cindy’s trip to Bangladesh nearly two decades ago and how she returned with a baby girl, now 17, who they adopted as their own.

On the question of why each candidate wanted to be president, one (Obama) said, in essence, he wanted to stand up for the little guy and show that anything is possible in America. McCain said he wanted to inspire younger generations.

The Jeremiah Wright Award for Audacity goes to Senator Barack Obama who claimed credit for passing campaign finance reform legislation in Washington. When Warren asked, "Can you give an example of where you went against party loyalty and maybe even went against your own best interest for the good of America."

If Senator Barack Hussein Obama was a honest man he would have had to said something along the lines of "I plead the 5th" or "No, I have never went against party loyality. Please note my straight down party lines voting record of 2007." Or at least refer to all those time he mearly voted "present" as a Illinois State Senator to keep from rocking the boat.


Tisk ... Tisk ... Tisk. Mr Obama you lie once again. You must be banking on the public to not remember that McCain's major finance reform bill became law in 2002, more than two years before you showed up in the Senate.

And, of course, Obama then rejected federal financing for his campaign, breaking his promise to adhere to the system and trashing the very reforms he is now trying to take moral and political credit for.

I, for one, was very inspired by McCain. Not at all by Obama. McCain kicked poor old Barry's big eared butt in this forum.

Before I was mearly going to vote AGAINST Obama.

Now I am voting FOR McCain and am sending money to his campaign.

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Well, that just about sums it up!