When the advertising began about the event at Saddleback Church with Rick Warren, I thought it would be something I could live without. It seemed to me to be a long and tedious way to spend Saturday evening. And, I do feel a little put off about mixing politics and religion.
I was wrong.
I tuned in and thought I'd just switch the channel if I was bored. Turns out the two hours were quite interesting. Granted, it may have been interesting to me because I'm a geek about politics and that's why it kept my attention. I have come to the conclusion that though it wasn't a debate and no pronounced winner or loser, it clearly was John McCain's night.
The format, with identical questions asked and answered by the candidates alone on the stage with Warren, one candidate then the other, was a success. No distractions with petty sniping back and forth. No need for one candidate to ask for a few moments for rebuttal. And, most importantly, no obvious political agenda from the moderator.
I don't know much about Rick Warren or his church, other than the wildly successful book he authored - which I haven't read - and that his megachurch serves thousands. I have seen stories of trips to Africa that he and his wife do for missionary work. I have no problem with any of that. I have to say the guy impressed me. He was calm, genial, and asked specific questions not normally asked. His questions were about personal vision, mostly. He dealt with the candidates as men, not politicians.
The contrast was stark.
The candidates were asked for the names of three people to whom they would turn for advice in their new administration. Obama, who was questioned in the first hour, listed his wife, his grandmother (the white one in Hawaii) and then listed off several politicians he thought would be appealing to both sides, such as Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar.
John McCain listed General Petraeus, Rep. John Lewis (GA, civil rights leader w/MLK), and Meg Whitman (Founder and former CEO of e-Bay).
Touchy feely and politically correct vs pragmatic and experienced.
From an article in Investor's Business Daily, "On taxes, Obama waxed political: "What I'm trying to do is create a sense of balance and fairness in our tax code." McCain showed an understanding of what drives a free economy: "I don't want to take any money from the rich. I want everybody to get rich. I don't believe in class warfare or redistribution of the wealth." And, to note a misstep of McCain's - Warren asked each candidate what their definition of "rich" is. McCain said, dismissing the question, maybe $5 million. It was his way of saying he didn't intend to raise income taxes on anyone. As soon as he said it he said it would be used out of context on the campaign trail ( like the 100 years in Iraq remark was). Sure enough, Monday brought the exact prediction coming true as Obama was speaking before a crowd of union members in Nevada and made the claim out of context. He thought he was showing McCain's lack of understanding about rich and poor. To turn that around, it shows Obama's economic socialism in play. McCain rewards success and grows the economy. Obama will punish success and slow economic growth, especially with small business, the backbone of our economy.
The crowd was much warmer to McCain than Obama, which was predictable. And, the posture of the candidates was interesting. Obama answered the questions without specific answers, depending on the use of nuance. He looked Warren in the eye and looked off to the side of the stage. McCain was clear in his responses and concise. He looked at Warren and mostly at the audience, speaking directly to them.
McCain is far more comfortable with a casual, open format. No speeches, no teleprompter, just talking to the people. He is completely comfortable in his own skin.
And, experience matters in today's world.