So, I peeped out the Saddleback Civic Forum at Pastor Rick Warren’s California mega church this weekend. This was the first joint appearance of both Senators McCain and Obama; which – in and of itself – was pretty unfortunate. I would have hoped to see these two candidates debate together long before now. Yet – of all the possible times and places to engage in a debate – their first public engagement together was at a religious event. Oy vey. In addition to that, there were a few other things that bothered me about this forum. For one, it disturbing to hear that the church actually charged up to $2000 for tickets to the event (fueling the argument that churches are among the biggest ‘for sale’ agencies to be found in this country). Secondly, there is the question of whether or not McCain could’ve heard the questions beforehand. But above all else, this forum represents the unsettling truth that religion (a personal choice) plays such a big role in selecting presidents. All of that notwithstanding, the forum was still pretty interesting.
I think both the candidates did a pretty good job of conveying their moral sensibilities; something that will no doubt have a bearing on who will be the next POTUS (again, it’s unnerving to think that something so subjective and personal will be so influencial; but I’d be naive to say it won’t). But after watching both candidates, I have to admit that John McCain came out the winner. He was far more emotionally stimulating, particularly by through his anecdotes. When he cited his divorce as one of his biggest moral failures, the crowd melted in his hands. Using that as his weapon of choice, McCain seemingly connected better with the audience. Oppositely, Obama came across as being too complex for the overwhelmingly conservative crowd; not a good way for him to lose the “elitist” label. Most of his responses were frankly too thought-provoking for a traditional religious audience member to completely process. Let’s face it: getting die-hard traditionalists to understand deeper and more profound thoughts is unrealistic and something that Obama will definitely have to address if he wants to continue courting the evangelical vote. I never thought I’d say that being deep is a problem, but in this case it was. This will hurt Obama down the road. For as much as I think the country should focus more on issues (which are more clearly defined by Obama) and less (far less) on religion (where his positions are not so clear to the average person), I think it will play a big role in determining the outcome of the election.
I never thought I’d say this, but the Obama camp could learn a thing or two from McCain’s performance.