Barack Obama, John McCain and Rick Warren
I don’t write about politics or faith very often…I prefer to bore people on a variety of other subjects…but following tonight’s Saddleback Civil Forum (carried live on CNN and FOX News, among others), I felt compelled to write something.
Here’s my take: I can’t tell you who “lost” on the evening, if anybody (both candidates came off very well), but I think the overall winner was the American voters.
The concept of a “civil” forum is not new. British politician, philanthropist and social justice crusader William Wilberforce (recently profiled in the film Amazing Grace) was famous for reaching “across the aisle” of Parliament to work with those with opposing views in a spirit of civility. Unfortunately, our society seems to have lost a little of this important skill in the 21st Century. But tonight was decidedly different.
Each candidate was quick-witted, thoughtful, well-spoken and generally impressive. We also got to see what each man looks like without a tie on. Warren’s extended dialog with Obama and McCain — thanks to the well-paced one hour interview format — was a welcome change from the usual stump speech “sound bites” that tend to overwhelm us during a campaign year. I had the sense that each senator was able to adequately share his views on several topics in this relaxed, low-pressure environment.
By relaxed, I certainly don’t mean that the questions were easy. In fact, I think that the primary (no pun intended) reason for the evening’s success were not the answers themselves, but Warren’s questions, which drew each senator out on topics not usually covered on the campaign trail. True to his word, Warren asked the same questions of Obama and McCain. Because Obama took a bit more time with some of his answers, McCain received a couple that Obama didn’t, but generally the two covered the same ground. And each was very forthcoming.
A few thousand people attended the event, and several hundred more watched live in various video venues scattered around the Saddleback campus. In addition, hundreds of radio and television reporters and associates were on hand, interviewing as many people as they could following the event, guaranteeing that we’ll have plenty of “sound bites” to nibble on for the next few weeks. I hope they do the candidates justice.
As I waited for my wife and oldest daughter to meet me at the venue I had hosted (they had been in the main auditorium with Warren and the candidates), I was struck by the content of the discussions I overheard as the throng filed past. Everyone seemed to be discussing the topics of the forum, and sharing comments and views from both candidates that had impressed them. At a restaurant a few miles down the road, I overheard some discussions continuing. And the cool thing was that all of the discussions were…well…civil. Politics and religion? Who’d a thunk it?
Well done, Barack Obama, John McCain and Rick Warren.
William Wilberforce would be pleased.