I watched some of it, but these public forums continue to just provide candidates the chance to say the same-old same -old. We already knew their views on these things. Politicans aren’t known for self-reflection (says David Denby in Great Books), though Obama might not fit this mold. Still, can’t candidates explore the way their political words conjure up images and that we need to examine these images if we are to find bridges to solutions for our common problmes? The context for this forum set up an subconscious defensiveness that made fruitful communication less likely to happen.
I thought it was all really good … for Rick Warren.
Warren got a lot of pre-program media time to talk about what he was going to ask and what hoped the candidates would say. So much for the “cone of silence.” Any Obama or McCain operative had only to listen to Warren on the nightly network news to know what the questions would be and how to coach his candidate to answer them.
Moreover, in making their first side-by-side appearance on Warren’s program, the candidates allowed the evangelical/fundamentalist axis to make the candidates’ personal religious beliefs much more of an issue than it should be. Their answers will now be regurgitated and rehashed in all upcoming debates, and all this will reduce time that should be spent on testing the candidates’ political acumen, their understanding of the ills facing the nation, and their proposed policies for addressing those ills.
Both McCain and Obama should have been slapped for agreeing to do the show, though the e-mails I’ve received from my evangelical/fundie in-laws about Obama’s being a Muslim may stop now.
But I doubt it.
I believe Obama gave thoughtful honest answers. And because he took that approach, he spoke less fluidly, less confidently than usual. Then McCain comes out and launches straight into his stump speech and his stupid anecdotes. Talk about the contrast between the old and the new.
And then McCain launches into the need to destroy “evil”. Why is it again that this man terrifies me?
I think the lack of substantive questions leads viewers to focus more on personality and delivery, and those are poor qualities on which to make an informed decision.
It’s piety and personality masquerading as some sort of serious news piece. Yecchhh.
Want to avoid characterizing either candidate or Warren’s questions. Rather, would suggest that his forum was an excellent project (need to add his Sunday sermon with principles today)…why:
a) he refuses to endorse either candidate stating that is not his role (if only certain Catholic bishops could learn this approach vs. the communion wars, single issue voting, threats of excommunication, confusing the religious/moral and public arenas, publishing books 3 months prior to the US presidential election);
b) agree that the public and religious are complementary – you do need to understand their ethics, social policy foundations, etc. But, this forum allowed them to do so without facing judgment, orthodoxy, which party is right or wrong – it also started with Warren “listening” not preaching; and trusting his folks to listen and decide (gee, what a provocative idea);
c) so, why can’t the USCCB leadership do something similar rather than passively produce a document – what if every state or regional bishops’ groups took this a step further and had forums for senate and governor races? What you could model is a proper Christian forum that stesses listening, respect, nuances vs. sound bites, etc.
d) Not sure I agree with Jean’s comments that this forum only focused on personality and delivery – per our pundits and talking heads, we get enough of that. These same pundits seem to believe that the Catholic vote will make “the” difference in this year’s election – so, why not drop the partisanship and model effective listening and respect knowing that there will be difficult choices. Let’s at least hope that folks making those choices have had a good chance to understand the issues and what is at stake and to be trusted to vote accordingly rather than told from on high.
Neither candidate covered himself with glory. Obams remarks on abortion were a disappointment. His position, as I understand it, makes some sense, but what he said Saturday night was so muddled that verged on the incoherent.
McCain was a disgrace. He presented himself as a born again John Wayne, on the hunt for evildoers to do in.
David Gergen, on CNN, said that McCain had shown that he is going to be a very formidable candidate. Gergen usually does a pretty good job in assessing a candidate’s performance. His evaluation of McCain’s performance shook both my wife and me. So far as I can tell, Gergen’s no fan of McCain. That makes his opinion that much more scary.
Bill, I’d be interested to know what you learned from Rick Warren’s candidate interviews that helped you make a more informed political decision.
The Saddleback Civil Forum sets up Rick Warren as a kingmaker. The scheme allows him to run a kind of folksy inquisition in which politicians have to defend not only their political records, but their personal piety. More insidiously, it allows Rick Warren set the standards of morality from the git-go.
On the one hand, I have to admire the brilliancy of the Saddleback scheme.
On the other, the fact that our major presidential candidates played into its hands fills me with dismay.
However, I fear I am being strident and repetitive, so time to go breathe into the paper bag and think about housework or something.
Obama’s perfomance goes a long way to demonstrating why he tries to avoid face to face, unscripted encounters. At times he makes Georg Bush look like Cicero.
“Stupid anecdotes”? You mean like the silly ones where he was beaten and starved for six years. Call me naive, but I think living on 500 calories a day and having your arms repeatedly pulled out of their sockets while watching some of your friends suffer and die just might affect your views on life, and death, and God.
I guess I think it was good to have this discussion at Saddleback, because I like Warren’s distinction between the separation of church and state (good) and the separation of faith and culture (bad). I think it’s good to have that discussion televised, too.
I also think (hope) that this is more evidence that the culture wars are behind us. Warren said this was a “civil” forum–about civil society, and civilly conducted. And I thought it was good that both parties candidates refrained from attacking the other.
Not surprisingly, I suppose, I was more in sync with Obama’s longer, nuanced answers than with McCain’s anecdotes–I do have to say, though, I gained a real sense of why faith is personal and private for McCain, given what it horrors it sustained through.
Maybe what needs to be rethought, more generally, is the idea that Americans need to expose their relationship with God to public view. Do we expect religious exhibitionism in this country?
Would that he could talk about that, Sean.
Funny, Sean, how the people glorifying McCain’s military record were the ones donning purple-heart band-aids at the last Republican convention to mock John Kerry. Sorry, but these people hold nothing sacred– and that includes Christianity. There are also hints that McCain stole his cross in the dirt stoy from Solzhenitsen. And of course, they exploit abortion for electoral gain while not being even remotely pro-life.
But my broader point (and this applies to all sides): why is it that American politicians argue by dumb anecdote, rather than reasoning and facts?
why is it that American politicians argue by dumb anecdote, rather than reasoning and facts?
Maybe what needs to be rethought, more generally, is the idea that Americans need to expose their relationship with God to public view. Do we expect religious exhibitionism in this country?
As for MM’s question, politicians argue from anecdote because our culture has forgotten its rhetorical tools that had been taught in prior decades before —well, pick a date. I wonder if the TV medium caused us to be less patient with non-anecdotal reasoning….. Also, we no longer see the various sides of an argument as heuristic devices, ways to advance our understanding of things. We assume our present level or assumptions for/of understanding supports the best matrix for interfacing with life’s emergencies (to use a term from Henry Adams). Again, there are many causes for this but the important thing is to see what we have and to characterize it correctly. I tell people that we all have to recognize the Pharaoh of hard heartedness in our minds.
As for the expectation of religious exhibitionism, I wonder if it arises from our consumerist mentality. We have a very impersonal relationship with things that arises from this commodity-consumerist mentality. Because of it, we think we pick a religion like it is a suit or dress. I like Susanne Langer’s image that everyone finds their Holy of Holies where they can. The idea is that we can’t help but be religious. Whatever we use to give our lives meaning, to give it focus, to give it direction is our religion. I think the helpful counsel these days is to make the fig tree, or pragmatic test: the heuristic test: what bridges are built from the vision produced by this set of assumptions and attitudes.
Jean and others – here is a snippet from Michael Sean Winters’s highlights of this event: 35 years on, Warren comes to politics with a desire to take a more comprehensive approach, one that includes addressing poverty as well as defending traditional marriage. The Gospels have a great deal to say about issues that would today be called social justice issues. He is certainly concerned to end abortion on demand in this country, but he is also concerned about the spread of AIDS in Africa. The questions last night reflected this broader agenda. Warren and many younger evangelical leaders also have questioned the advisability of being so beholden to the GOP that they find themselves and their agenda taken for granted. Evangelicals, in short, like other demographics this year, are evidencing a pronounced generational difference. In providing Obama such a high profile stage, Warren may be furthering the diversity of political opinions within the evangelical church. And that is a good thing for both church and state.
Again – my statements were targeted at the forum – an attempt to reach common ground – an attempt to end partisanship – an attempt to deflect negative attacks. What I learned – at this point, probably, not much I had not already known or studied. On the other hand, each candidates’ passion or lack of passion told me a lot.
Bill, forgive me for continuing to press, but what does “passion or lack of passion” tell you, exactly, and how will it shape your vote?
Passion strikes me as one of the intangibles that’s part of the beauty contest we’ve made the presidential race into. Is passion really something that matters in the face of voting record, achievement in office, quality of ideas?
If I were VERY cynical about mega-churches as a profitable line of tax-exempt business, I might say that they’re very nimble at changing message to appeal ensure the largest demographic appeal. The 20- and 30-somethings want to hear more than the “anti’s”–anti abortion, anti gay marriage; they want to hear about tree-hugging and poor-feeding. And maybe from a guy in a Hawaiian shirt who makes it all seem fun and casual–like a vacation from real life!
I’m certainly not opposed to evangelicals and fundamentalists getting with the social justice program, and I know evan-fundies locally who, though late to the table, are doing some good in the community. Bless them!
But this is not what Rick Warren is doing. He’s hitting the airwaves in order to shape the political agenda. To be sure he’s much subtler and less confrontational than Pat Robertson or Jerry Fallwell. But, in my view, that simply makes what he’s doing even sneakier.
Pardon for the gear shift from high dudgeon to full-fledged rant.
Oops, that should read “I might say that they’re very nimble at changing message to appeal to the largest possible demographic.”
It is always fascinating to me that the “tolerance” crowd is so intolerant of anyone who disagrees with them. They tell “stupid” anecdotes, and “these people” hold nothing sacred, and people wonder why we can’t rationally address problems – it is much easier to demonize the other side.
My point is that whether you argee with his politics or not, what McCain did and what he endured was real, and it was something that not one person in a hundred could have dealt with half as well. Is it important for his presidential run? Maybe, maybe not. You decide. But we ought not demean it by calling it stupid, and if you are saying he lies about it, say so, don’t hint.
Talk about what?
Jean – passion for me means the use of a serious, rational process of weighing each candidates’ strengths and weaknesses; figuring in his/her ability to motivate and inspire (it is a bully pulpit); and ability to call people to a new direction, goal, and lay this out in reasonable, doable steps. I also look for answers that incorporate the ability to partner with Congress vs. particianship; who are willing to bring to the presidency the willingness to value our worldwide partners; and give a chance to reach out and build new relationships.
Tired of the arrogance of both parties; tired of the same old same old. The old boys/girls club need to be shaken up and confronted.
“Tired of the arrogance of both parties; tired of the same old same old. The old boys/girls club need to be shaken up and confronted.”
Bill, no argument there from me, and if you felt you were able to gauge a sense of the candidates’ leadership abilities by what you heard, then perhaps my blind spots about fundamentalist and evangelical media moguls made me miss some important moments.
That said, I just happen to consider a TV preacher diddlin’ around in politics part of the same old same old.
Except this time Warren isn’t commenting from the side, but actually calling the shots and can telegraph candidate approval through the applause-o-meter of his congregants, which means he avoids any tax-exempt-status-threatening overt endorsements.
The Southern Baptist representative on tonight’s Nightly News (PBS) bragged about how well the event went and said, “So much for evangelicals losing their national influence.”
Jean – even we Catholics can learn from evangelicals. Closing our minds only puts us in the same place as those who accuse us of having closed minds.
I would love to see various Catholic bishops behave more like Warren than the Burkes, Caputs, etc. that we have.
Bill, I’m happy if you feel you have something to learn from evangelicals and fundamentalists. I’ve heard other Catholics here say the same thing. I can only presume they don’t have evan/fundie relatives.
I’ve listened to their brand of Christianity from in-laws on both sides of the family for more than three decades, and all I’ve learned from them is how to pervert Scripture and who’s going to “fry in hell,” a phrase my sister-in-law likes to dish up at Christmas with her deep-fried turkey.
David, interesting report, especially the bit about McCain’s not having been baptized. But are you talking Episcopal infant baptism (hard to believe that if his parents were Anglicans McCain wasn’t baptized at birth) or Baptist baptism?
Some Baptists don’t count infant baptism, and some believe re-baptism is necessary after someone’s fallen away. If McCain had been baptized as a baby, he might still be in a fair way to need re-baptism, which might also require a public demonstration of repentance before the congregation. Which might not be such a good idea during an election year.
In any case, I object to “hints” that McCain was pre-fed the questions. I think the man has more integrity than to accept a crib sheet. And he wouldn’t have needed it in any case. Rick Warren was all over the network news blabbering about what he was going to ask and what answers he expected. And if you have followed the evan/fundie political agenda, as McCain obviously has, you would have a fair idea of what would be asked.
Moreover, McCain seemed more relaxed (or as relaxed as the guy can get) because 75 percent of evan/fundies identify as Republicans/conservatives. This is home turf for him. Obama was a visitor, he was guarded, but candid in his answers, I think.
But it was clear whom the crowd was rooting for. And, by extension, Pastor Rick.
And why either candidate would accept this set-up remains beyond my ken.
There are also hints that McCain stole his cross in the dirt stoy from Solzhenitsen.
Right . . . because when a billion people are enslaved by Communism, and when some of them belong to a religion that tells of ancient stories of people making signs in the dirt to recognize each other, there surely wouldn’t be two such people who would think of making a sign in the dirt independently. One of them had to have stolen the story from the other one.
Very late to this thread:
-agree that is was very good for Rick Warren
-agree that I’m tired of the same old same old….
hence, forget about Obama or Mccain for aminute: is religion supposed to be a voice or the voice in the public square and how do we keep balance, now as cathy notes, the “culture wars are over?’
When I served on the local library board nobody asked me to discuss how being Catholic would affect my performance, and nobody seemed concerned about my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Patrons judged my performance on whether they a) had access to a variety of media suited to all age groups and demographics in our service area, b) a clean, pleasant and accessible facility, c) the ability to stay within budget, d) a trained and friendly staff, and e) a willingness to defend the library’s collection from those challenging individual selections.
So dare I suggest that touting one’s religiosity has NO place in the public square?
Somehow asking the candidates how much they love Jesus or how much personal remorse they feel for the failure of a previous marriage is replacing piercing questions about policy and close scrutiny of past performance in office.
“Somehow asking the candidates how much they love Jesus or how much personal remorse they feel for the failure of a previous marriage is replacing piercing questions about policy and close scrutiny of past performance in office.”
I suppose it stems from the reality that an awful lot of voters don’t make their decision primarily, or even at all, on stances on particular isues, but on “comfort factor” or some other gut, hunchy thing.
The gut, hunchy stuff makes for a fun party game, and that’s about it.
Raber and I used to play a game called “What if Presidential Candidate X lived next door?”
We decided we’d most want to live next door to George and Barbara Bush, mostly because we imagined they’d keep their dog quiet, she’d bring over a casserole if somebody died, and they’d keep up their property tidy.
We’d least like to live next door to Bill and Hillary because he’d be the type who’d let his unneutered dog run all over the neighborhood jumping on people and saying, “Aw, he ain’t gone hurtcha. He just wants to lick yer face.”
We almost voted Bob Dole as least desirable, but figured that he’d be the type who wouldn’t HAVE a dog, but would get satisfyingly irate if your kid called him up and asked if his toilet was running or TP’d his house. Perfect butt for practical jokes that every neighborhood needs.
The idea of voting for a candidate based on the criteria for our game strikes me as ludicrous. As does the criteria hauled out on the Saddleback show.