Progressive Revival

The McCain campaign sent out an email yesterday touting their guy’s performance with Pastor Rick: “The reviews are in from Saturday’s Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, moderated by Pastor Rick Warren. The critics agree – John McCain’s straight talk emerged as the big winner of the night!” And unlike the McCain ad that blamed Obama for high gas prices, or the one that pretended he had no time for wounded soldiers in Germany, it happens to be true. Yes, the media all but universally held that in his debut as a religious conservative, Johnny Mac Rocked the Saddleback. And Obama? Even Drew Westen, who wrote the book on how Democrats can do better in the emotional realm in which elections are won and lost, thought Obama fell way short.


Apparently, I have no future as a theatre critic. But here’s why my Jesus-loving little baby heart swelled to the sound of Obama’s message that night: First, let’s face it, the man not only talks pretty, he God-talks pretty, and in a way that indicates he’s logged some miles in his walk. As Democrats before him have learned, you just can’t fake that, and woe unto him who tries. He was contemplative in his answers, but given the subject and the setting, wasn’t that a good thing? (Who knew the candidates would be judged by Jeopardy-contestant standards, on who buzzed in first? Men and women for 40, Alex.)


Truthfully, I was happy that Obama had to hear and grapple with Warren’s abortion question about at what point babies should be accorded human rights. The first part of his answer, that “answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade” is the sort of comment that might come off as flip when you read it, but seemed humble when he spoke it. But when he said we have to work to reduce the number – not just need, but number – of abortions, I could hardly believe my ears: That one word, number, represents an incredibly important shift. (And would it be so bad if we worked together to do both?)


The highlight, though, was when he said that “on this particular issue, if you believe that life begins at conception and you’re consistent on that, then I can’t argue with you.” Or call me names that keep us polarized and distracted from doing all we could on the goals we do agree on? Simple, but a huge deal for pro-life Democrats weary of being insulted by people with whom they agree on every other matter. Apparently, this is hard, but it is not complicated.


Obama’s answer on evil was the more classically Christian response: Easy peazy to say sure there’s evil and his name is Osama, but maybe less comfortable to say yeah, of course, but it’s also in our own neighborhoods and our own backyards and our own hearts. Little less easy to bomb that brand of evil, isn’t it?


It wasn’t that I thought McCain did a poor job, but his tone was so jocular and his answers far more political and secular; I don’t think he told any stories I hadn’t heard before. And he spoke with more passion about his Paul-to-Damascus moment on offshore drilling (“We gotta drill here! We gotta drill now!”) than on any aspect of his faith life. I do not doubt that he prayed his head off in Hanoi, but I would have liked to have heard a little something about the decades since he returned from Vietnam.


McCain’s answer on how rich is rich made no sense: “Some of the richest people I’ve ever known are the most unhappy…I want everybody to get rich.” And as others have pointed out, it’s just not true that “our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.” (Jews in Colonial America were not feeling the love, my friend, or even the tolerance.)


But my real problem with his performance was the disconnect between the fact that he worked war into every answer and then proclaimed that “this presidency will have pro-life policies.”


Doubtless some Democrats were relieved that Obama “lost” at Saddleback. But I’m sorry to inform them on life issues, he said what I’d been waiting to hear.





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