Like many Americans I watched the “Saddleback Civil Forum” with great interest. What an ingenious format. The idea of having the two presidential candidates answer the same questions, without hearing their opponent’s answers, produced a lot more light than heat. What a pleasant relief that was to the mind and to the ear.
I believe voters learned more about Senator Obama and Senator McCain and where they are in substantive disagreement on substantive issues during the Saddleback forum than they will learn from watching all the presidential debates. I pray this format will catch on and multitudes of candidates for thousands of offices across the land will agree to participate in future forums modeled after this one.
For example, the differences could not have been more stark when the two presumptive nominees answered the question on which current Supreme Court justices they would not have nominated. McCain predictably replied, Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter and Stevens. Obama replied with equal predictability, Justices Thomas, Roberts, and Scalia (with a gratuitous swipe at Justice Thomas where it appeared that Senator Obama was about to say that Justice Thomas didn’t have enough “experience,” and then decided that was probably not the direction a freshman Senator running for President should go.)
There were other important, even moving, moments. For me personally, Senator McCain’s answer to the question, “What’s the most gut-wrenching decision you’ve ever had to make?” moved me deeply. McCain explained that because his father was a high-ranking admiral the North Vietnamese were willing to let him go home from Hanoi immediately, and that he refused because the POWs’ code of conduct was “you only leave in order of capture” and others had been captured before him.
Senator McCain’s last statement was that his decision to stay in captivity and be tortured rather than come home early was “not only the toughest decision I ever made” but that he was satisfied with that decision more “than any decision I ever made in my life.”
Two final observations. First, I totally agree with Rick Warren’s statement at the beginning of the Forum, “We believe in the separation of church and state, but we do not believe in the separation of faith and politics.”
Second, I am by nature genetically programmed to be an optimist. I must confess, however, in my wildest dreams I never would have imagined that the only joint appearance of the two major party presidential candidates prior to their presidential debates would be at a Southern Baptist church with a fourth-generation Southern Baptist preacher asking all the questions for two hours. So much for the decline of Evangelical influence in American society.