LiveBlogging the Obama-McCain-Warren Christianathon August 16, 2008

LiveBlogging the Obama-McCain-Warren Christianathon

Barack Obama and John McCain are appearing at Pastor Rick Warren‘s Saddleback Church.

Refresh the page for the latest updates. All times are Eastern:

8:00: Rick Warren says his church “believes in separation of church and state.” No one seems to be laughing. I’m confused.

8:04: Obama goes first because he won a coin flip. He should get out while he’s ahead.

8:04: Obama has to name the three wisest people he knows. Say your wife. Say. Your. Wife.

He says “you” (Warren). Well played, sir.

He says his wife. Good.

He says his grandmother. Seems decent enough…

He goes on a tangent to says he’s bipartisan, not limiting himself to three wise people, but choosing from all sides. Huh? Boring…

8:08: Obama’s greatest moral failure? He had a hard youth, he says. Drug use, drinking were bad. He was selfish. Applause.

America’s greatest moral failure? We don’t help the least of our brothers — quoting the Bible. A Democrat knows the Bible? thinks the audience. More applause.

8:10: Party loyalty question. Obama worked with McCain on ethics/finance reform, he says. He also broke with his party, in a sense, on going into Iraq (though he wasn’t a Senator at the time).

8:13: What have you flip-flopped on in the past 10 years? Obama says the issue of welfare reform. Helping the poor. Something Warren likes. Smooth. He doesn’t ever say he was wrong, but he says he’s become more accepting of programs that require a welfare recipient to work.

8:14: William Lobdell points this out regarding Obama’s comment about being selfish:

“It’s not about me” is the first line from Warren’s best-selling “Purpose Driven Life” book.

8:20: Worldview questions. In other words, how Christian are you?

How important is Jesus to you? Are you %$&# kidding me? Oy.

Just stick to the script… Obama does. Then he keeps rambling about the Jesus.

8:22: Abortion. Obama’s pro-choice. How does he handle this?

At what point does a baby get rights? Wade carefully… Obama evades the question. He says, though, that there is a “moral and ethical element to this issue.” He says he’s pro-choice. Not pro-abortion. Adding that women don’t make these decision casually. He wants to reduce abortions, though.

Has Obama voted to reduce abortion? Yes, to late-term abortion, with exceptions for the woman’s health. Pro-lifers don’t like this, though. If you’re solid on the idea that life begins at conception, though, Obama says he can’t argue with you. There must be a middle ground. Obama wants women to have the resources (adoption, health care, etc) to keep a child.

8:25: Define marriage. Man and woman, says Obama.

A bigoted audience claps loudly.

He adds that marriage is a threesome with God. (My words, not his.)

Audience claps more.

Obama wouldn’t support a Constitutional amendment for this, though.

One dude in the audience claps. I assume he’s escorted away.

Obama says he supports civil unions.

No one claps.

8:28: Stem cells.

Obama says nothing you haven’t heard before.

8:30: Does evil exist?

Obama says yes.

I’m wondering who could possibly say “no” to this…

8:32: The courts.

Which Supreme Court justices would you not have nominated?

Not Clarence Thomas. Oooh… black on black. That’s one that’ll be dissected.

Not Scalia, though Obama gives credit to his intellect.

John Roberts? Obama voted no on his appointment, and says what he’s seen so far confirms his suspicions about him. Specifically? Roberts has been to willing to give the Bush administration more power than they should have.

8:35: Faith-based organizations?

Warren asks if faith-based organizations can legally discriminate against people they don’t like. Obama’s already said no on this, though he has supported FBO. He tells Warren FBO can hire anyone they want on their own terms, but on federally funded programs, no discrimination.

No one claps. Apparently, they want their discrimination.

8:38: Education. Merit pay for teachers.

Should better teachers be paid more?

Obama says we need a system for performance pay created with teachers (unions and whatnot). And reward excellence.

8:39: Define “rich.”

Obama pokes fun at book-selling God, Rick Warren. Funny.

If your family makes $150,000 or less, you’re middle class. Depending on region.

More than $250,000? You’re doing well.

It’s all relative.

8:45: War. What’s worth dying for?

Obama says “American freedom.” Boring…

8:47: When do we go in to places like Darfur?

It depends, he says.

(One dude caught on camera is seen walking out.)

8:49: Orphans. Would you help them like Bush helped AIDS victims?

(WTF sort of question is that?)

Obama says yes.

8:50: Religious persecution in China? Other countries? (Not just of Christians.)

Obama says we need to speak out. Religious freedom is key. Lead by example. Insert-your-own-soundbyte-here.

8:53: Human trafficking. Bad?

Yes. Obama says we must stop it.

Another question that doesn’t help discern the two candidates at all.

8:55: Why do you want to be president?


Crowd goes wild.

8:56: What about those people who don’t like me asking you these questions?

Obama says these are the kinds of forums we need.

I’ll admit at this point that as much as I disapprove having this kind of forum (at a church), this is much more compelling than the last ABC News debate debacle with Hillary Clinton.

8:56: What would you tell the American public if there were no repercussions?

Solving big problems won’t be easy. Everyone must get involved.

Warren tells his crowd to applaud. Just in case they don’t.

John McCain comes out.

Hands are shaken. Photos are taken.

9:02: Three wisest people? In your administration? (slightly different question than Obama’s)

Gen. David Petraeus.

John Lewis. Congressman.

Meg Whitman. Former eBay CEO.

Not impressive.

9:05: Moral failure?

Say “cheating on your first wife.”

He says his first marriage… no mention of cheating. Moves on quickly.

America’s failure? He says something about 9/11. Not a bad answer, though.

He mentions Warren’s book’s first line (“It’s not about you”) to score easy points. Obama did this more smoothly.

9:02: Party loyalty?

McCain mentions a number of cases when he’s gone against the Republicans.

He’s not very compelling onstage… gets into a “stump speech mode” very often. Unlike Obama, he acts like he’s giving a speech to the audience, instead of talking directly to Warren.

9:08: Flip-flop from 10 years ago?

McCain says “off-shore drilling.”

You can almost see him going through a list of possible answers in his mind…

Back to stump speech, he goes.

Someone needs to tell him this is not a campaign rally.

Even though it’s kind of a campaign rally.

9:11: Most gut-wrenching decision ever? How did you make it?

McCain mentions the prison camp from Vietnam. Tells his war story. No doubt he went through hell, but for some reason, when he tells the story, it strikes me the wrong way.

McCain adds that he prays.

Audience applauds.

9:16: You’re a Christian. What does that mean to you?

Another Vietnam story.

Sounds like his entire staff told him to constantly remind everyone he was tortured in Vietnam.

9:19: Abortion.

When’s a baby entitled to human life?

At conception, says McCain.

Lots of appluase.

McCain adds he has a pro-life record and will be a pro-life president.

9:20: Define marriage.

One man, one woman, says McCain.

Was CA wrong in allowing gays to marry? asks Warren

Yes, says McCain.

He says states should have that decision.

Even though California, a state, made that decision…

9:21: Stem cells.

He’s in favor of it, though he adds that skin cell research will make this debate moot.

9:23: Does evil exist?

Yes, and we should defeat it.

(Again, pointless question.)

He says he’ll follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell — and no one should get away with taking American lives (then why did Bush send our troops to Iraq???)

9:24: Which justices would you not have nominated?

Ginsburg. Breyer. Souter. Stevens.

Why not? asks Warren.

McCain says they’ll all legislated from the bench.

He adds he likes Alito and Roberts.

No one asked.

9:27: Faith-based organizations?

Can FBOs discriminate?

Yes. Let them be bigots. Screw the gays and women and blacks, implies McCain. If your faith doesn’t like them, they will get federal funding.

9:29: Education.

Merit pay for the best teachers?

Yes, and find bad teachers another line of work.

Home schooling, charter schools, vouchers — all competition is good, he says.

He says “vouchers works” — the education question is a good time to show bad grammar.

9:31: Taxes. Define “rich.”

“Some of the richest people I know are the most unhappy” — that’s a cute soundbyte that completely avoids the question.

“My friends” count? 4 at this point.

Keep taxes low with a $7,000 tax credit per child. $5,000 tax credit for the insurance of your choice.

McCain has not defined rich. Obama did.

Now he does. Jokingly. $5,000,000 is rich.

“I don’t think… seriously…” — Keith Olbermann will have a field day with that one.

“My Friends” count? 5.

Obama’s answer to this included a joke, a very serious academic answer, and no added crap.

My friends? 6.


9:35: Security question. When do our right to privacy and our right to national security collide?

They do.

(That’s not the right form of answer…)

9:40: What is worth dying for?


(Strangely, here, he doesn’t go into his Vietnam story…)

He tries going into Georgia and Russia. Warren stops him. (Thanks.)

9:44: My friends? 8.

He goes into Georgia and Russia. I think he’s trying to show that he knows they exist. Unlike Czechoslovakia…

And he’s trying to show he knows something about international affairs by just rattling off country names and saying he’s visited them.



9:47: How would you end religious persecution?

“The bully pulpit.”

These are the longest answers ever… no wonder people fall asleep at his rallies…


9:49: Orphans?

We need to get them adopted. (Unless the adopters are gay. In which case, $%&# the orphans.)

Another boring story. He’s like a grandparent no one wants to listen to…

9:51: Why do you want to be president?

To inspire a generation.


9:53: What about those who oppose me asking you these questions in a church?

I want to be in every venue and this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values.

Well, McCain just lost my vote…

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Aj

    They weren’t serious answers, but telling a guy who doesn’t believe in the fact of evolution he’s the wisest person they know is sickening. Politicians and arse licking, sigh…

    Government shouldn’t be defining what marriage is, cultures should. For Obama maybe marriage is between a man and a woman, but for Adam and Steve it might not be. Governments should provide civil unions to all that want them. Too much is made of marriage, I think in a few generations it won’t be so popular.

    Moral relativists would say evil doesn’t exist. If a religious person asked me I’d ask them what they mean. They personify or supernaturalize “evil”, I don’t believe in that evil. Not a relativist though, not amoral, I still believe in wrong.

    Politicians are boring, they try to say as little as possible, nothing intelligent, just the obvious, just sound bytes.

  • Oy. I’m writing in Jefferson on my ballot. Where else in the world are political candidates asked about their good buddy Jesus?

  • Bob

    I don’t know why all the McCain supporters are so excited about the debates. McCain seems forced and unnatural in every format I have ever seen him in. He is so unsmooth inserting his talking points and anecdotes that this forum has made me even more confident that Obama will come off much better in any Q&A format.

  • Great job deconstructing those nauseating two hours, Hemant.

    But I disagree with you and Bob, above, about the effectiveness of the candidates in this kind of forum. Obama seemed friendly, but aloof — kind of like a somewhat genial professor talking to students whom he didn’t quite expect to understand him. McCain, for all the stump-speechiness and his “my friends” mantra, seemed more natural when he was making his points. And, unlike Obama, who was walking on eggshells, McCain actually had points to make (all of which I disagreed with, but my opinion is irrelevant because I’m one of those evil atheists who obviously hate God and America and apple pie). It’s a certainty that the audience in Saddleback itself — and probably most listeners — found McCain more likable.

    In either case though, whoever’s elected, freethinkers and other civil libertarians will lose.

  • Slu

    “He’s like a grandparent no one wants to listen to…”

    That line particularly tickled me. Your commentary was great.

  • Miko

    8:30: Does evil exist?

    Obama says yes.

    I’m wondering who could possibly say “no” to this…

    I would. Other than Shakespeare’s Richard III, people typically don’t think of themselves as the villains despite what others think. If the rest of us disagree with that person’s assessment, we can talk about it rationally and then take steps against that person without needing to invent concepts like “evil” to justify our actions.

  • McCain: Why are we spending 3 million dollars to look at bear DNA?

    Me: (an evolutionary biologist working in an ecology/conservation lab) …F*** you.

    Mom: (which I have never said more that “Crap” in front of before and doesn’t even like me saying that) *nods approvingly*

  • Wayne

    All right, thats it. You’re getting bookmarked. I tried to watch the whole thing, but once grandpa got on trying to out jesus Rick, i decided i’d rather get me some olympics. Great recap.

  • I thought McCain’s performance was pretty pathetic. Pretty much heard nothing more than “War Hero, War hero, warmongering, warmongering.”

    Does evil exist? “Defeat it.” Wow, I’m so glad he’s the smug arbiter of all that is good and evil. Good gob at defeating 100,000 “evil” innocent civilians in Iraq. Good job at defeating some poor farmers with napalm in Vietnam. Evil? Look in the mirror, McWarmonger.

  • Siamang

    HEY, any chance these clowns might talk to an atheist group?

    Just kidding. They’ll wear assless chaps to a gay pride parade before they’d speak in front of an atheist group.

  • His grandmother? Would that be the grandmother he accused of racism as part of his attempt to distance himself from Pastor Wright?

  • cipher

    It seems as though Obama handled himself as well as could be expected – but he’ll never really win with an audience like that. And they aren’t even the most hard-core of fundies.

    McCain doesn’t need to sound “natural”; he barely needs to come across as human. As long as he gives the correct monosyllabic answers to their hot-button questions, they’ll support him.

    Unfortunately, he has a very good chance. These morons will vote for anyone who tells them what they want to hear. There are those who say he’ll return to a more moderate position if elected; I don’t believe it. He’s absolutely sold himself to the Right; I knew it four years ago when I saw him embrace Bush. He’s spent so much time since kissing right-wing and evangelical ass that there’s no coming back from it. At his age, the brain simply doesn’t have that kind of plasticity.

    If he does get elected, we’ll have gotten precisely what we deserve. I say it all the time – the Europeans are right about us. This is a nation of imbeciles.

    Well, at least I’ll get to spend the next four years saying, “I told you so” – if I don’t open a vein.

  • It doesn’t sound like either candidate took this thing particularly seriously, which I suppose is a good thing. And I’d like to think that some of Obama’s answers (like his definition of marriage) were just pandering to his audience. Still, I can’t help like him just a little bit less.

  • SarahH

    There are those who say he’ll return to a more moderate position if elected; I don’t believe it. He’s absolutely sold himself to the Right; I knew it four years ago when I saw him embrace Bush. He’s spent so much time since kissing right-wing and evangelical ass that there’s no coming back from it. At his age, the brain simply doesn’t have that kind of plasticity.

    I agree with you there. I remember liking him so much in 2000… it would be interesting to know exactly what has happened to him in the meantime. I hoped/thought for awhile that he was simply pandering for a few years to ensure that, even if Republican control was going to continue, it could be a more moderate administration. Now I’m more and more convinced that McCain would really follow through with his campaign positions if elected, and it’s a depressing thought.

  • Darryl

    Power is a drug: It affects everyone, but if you want it too badly, you quit thinking straight. Maybe McCain is faking, or maybe he isn’t, but it doesn’t matter. Our problems are greater than the failures of one man.

    If I were a praying man, I’d be having a prayer vigil right now. Lord, help us!

  • While this is a forum where the audience is clearly friendlier to McCain, Obama actually has the easier job. McCain needs to turn the audience (and those like them) into enthusiastic supporters. Obama just needs to convince them he is a reasonably good guy who isn’t out to get them. I may have to watch the whole thing, but judging from the descriptions above, I think Obama did what he needed to do, while McCain did not.

  • Axegrrl

    Christopher said:

    And I’d like to think that some of Obama’s answers (like his definition of marriage) were just pandering to his audience. Still, I can’t help like him just a little bit less.

    me too 🙁 Especially that cop-out/weasely response about marriage 🙁

    His stance is contradictory and hypocritical. As he said before: “although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views….my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”

    Uhm, what?

  • Darryl

    “although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views….my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”

    Axegrrl, this idea is not contradictory and hypocritical, but the stance that most politicians and Christians used to take. This is the stance of many Catholic politicians on abortion: they are personally opposed to abortion, but don’t believe their view ought to be forced on other citizens who think differently.

    If one thinks that their views on these social issues (the fundies would call them moral issues) are determined by their faith, and they believe that any faith shouldn’t be forced on others by legislation, then one may take such a position.

    In other words, with few and notable exceptions (where compelling arguments justify them), in matters of opinion (especially religious opinion), where there is no unanimity among citizens, and serious controversy, no federal law should be made.

  • Axegrrl

    Darryl, regardless of everything you said, the statement I quoted is indeed hypocritical and contradictory.

    Why state that you don’t like your religious views to determine your political views, and then, in the same breath say “my religious beliefs say…..”?

    What, exactly, ISN’T contradictory about that?

  • My in-laws, who are big Republicans, thought McCain did quite well. This was based on the fact that he has historically been quite bland and monotone in his speaking engagements. His handlers are apparently doing some good coaching.

  • cipher

    I remember liking him so much in 2000… it would be interesting to know exactly what has happened to him in the meantime.

    I rather liked him back then as well. I wanted a Democrat (I was very impressed with Bradley at the time; whatever happened to him?), but I recall telling a conservative friend (I had one back then; no longer!) that I could live with McCain. I think he’s just wanted so badly to be President, for so long, that he’ll say pretty much anything at this point to get it. I don’t think he’s insincere; I think he’s convinced himself (he really has gone over to the Dark Side!) – and, as I said, I think the rubber band has stretched too far to return to where it was before.

    Obama just needs to convince them he is a reasonably good guy who isn’t out to get them… I think Obama did what he needed to do, while McCain did not.

    I didn’t come away with that impression at all. From the way Hemant is describing it, he appears to have come off quite well. Life begins at conception, FBO’s can discriminate, doesn’t approve of the “liberal” Supreme Court Justices… he told them precisely what they wanted to hear. Frankly, I’m surprised he said that states should have the right to define marriage.

    I’m not concerned about Obama’s response concerning the latter. I agree with Darryl; he’s entitled to a faith-informed opinion, as long as he doesn’t try to legislate it. And, if it was pandering – he was surrounded by the enemy. What else could he have said? Doesn’t bother me.

  • TXatheist

    It just confirmed to me that Obama is not a liberal but a moderate and now I feel like I’m voting for the lesser of two evils.

  • I understand why Obama wants to side himself in with religious people, but I certainly don’t agree with it. I really wish he would wear his liberal chops no matter where he goes to show that he really is an arbitrator of change.

    I just hope that all of this isn’t how he really feels and will get into office and do what needs to be done to clean this Bush mess up.

  • Axegrrl

    ‘What else could he have said?’

    Oh, I completely agree. The reality is that all candidates HAVE to pander to the religious majority. It’s as sickeningly simple as that.

    But that doesn’t mean that Obama’s statement(s) about marriage/faith wasn’t contradictory.

  • Darryl

    Axegrrl, I say again that his thinking is neither hypocritical nor contradictory. You don’t have to like his views, but at least understand what he is saying.

    It’s really simple:

    His thinking is not contradictory because he has two categories of “views:” political views, and personal/religious views. He tries not to let the latter “dominate or determine” the former; like thinking that men shouldn’t marry men (personal view), but not trying to stop two men from marrying (political view).

    He’s not hypocritical because that would mean he is saying one thing and thinking or doing its opposite; like saying men shouldn’t marry men (personal view), and then marrying one himself (personal action).

    Are we clear now?

  • Jeff Satterley

    Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post’s article on the debate is very well written:

    Thought some of you might enjoy it

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