Saturday, August 16, 2008

McCain Outshines Obama At Civil Forum

It was the first time Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain appeared on the same stage together during this presidential election. Rick Warren and his Saddlebrook Church in Lake Forest, California hosted the Civil Forum during which Obama and McCain successively answered questions from Warren for a 1-hour period. My expectations of McCain going in were pretty low, but I was simply amazed at how much he out-performed Obama tonight. McCain was much more relaxed as he re-established his "straight talk" persona he enjoyed during his run against George W. Bush eight years ago. Obama, by comparison, gave stilted, emotionless answers to many of the questions.

The first question out of the box for both candidates was the names of three of the wisest people they would turn to for advice in their administrations. Obama named his wife, Michelle, and his grandmother. He declined to name a single, third person. Instead, he threw out the names of Sam Nunn and Dick Lugar on foreign policy and Ted Kennedy and Tom Coburn on domestic policy. Please, does anyone believe he's going to look to Oklahoma's Coburn for advice? Or the 85-year-old grandmother we've never seen or heard from during this campaign? McCain named Gen. David Petraeus for his successful leadership in Iraq, Rep. John Lewis for his courageous role in civil rights and E-Bay's Meg Whitman for her shining example of American business ingenuity.

Warren asked Obama and McCain to name their greatest moral failing and America's greatest moral failing. Obama cited his selfishness early in his life when he turned to drugs as a teen-ager, although he quickly reminded folks he grew up without a father in the home. That's not exactly true. He had an adopted father when he lived in Indonesia for several years, and his grandfather acted as his father when he returned to Hawaii to attend prep school. McCain quickly owned up to being an imperfect man. He cited the failure of his first marriage as his greatest human failing. Obama thought poverty was America's greatest failing. McCain cited the need for more volunteerism in America for military service, the Peace Corps and other such groups.

Obama really struggled with the next question when Warren asked the two to name actions the two had taken in their public careers which was against their own political interest. Obama first cited his support for ethics reform in the Senate, which he acknowledged involved McCain's support. He said some senators weren't too happy about losing free meal privileges. Obama also cited his early opposition to the war in Iraq, which he suggested threatened his hope of winning his Illinois Senate seat. It actually bolstered his chances in a crowded Democratic primary field. McCain quickly ticked off a list, including climate change, controlling federal spending through opposition to earmarks, his position on the use of torture in interrogation of war prisoners and his opposition to President Reagan's decision to place troops in Beirut during his early congressional career.

Warren gave both candidates a chance to explain their biggest flip-flop. Obama named welfare reform which required unwed mothers to work as a condition to receiving government benefit. Paradoxically, Obama's suggestion that poverty is America's greatest moral failing runs counter to his late-comer support for welfare-to-work programs. Indeed, the greatest failing of Johnson's Great Society was to create generation after generation of unwed mothers living in government housing, drawing welfare and collecting food stamps. These programs of entitlement wreaked havoc on lower-income families, particularly poor black families who live on Chicago's South Side near Obama's home. Not surprisingly, McCain cited his shifting stance on off-shore drilling. McCain said the "greatest transfer of wealth" in American history to nations who are hostile towards us creates a national security dilemma requiring greater domestic production. He emphasized, however, the need for alternative fuels and energy sources as part of that energy policy of reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

Obama stumbled badly on the abortion question. He said answering the question of when a baby's rights begin was "above his pay grade." McCain quickly and unequivocally said, "Conception." Incredibly, Obama claimed to support limits on late-term abortion proceedings. His record in the Illinois legislature was on the complete extreme. He opposed even rights for the fetus in those rare instances where a baby is born alive as a result of a late-term abortion.

Both candidates, not surprisingly, restated their opposition to gay marriage. Obama softened his position with his support for civil unions. McCain suggested he too supported some unspecified rights for same-sex couples. Obama and McCain both opposed a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriages; however, McCain tempered his position with this caveat: If the federal courts force a state which prohibits gay marriage to recognize gay marriages in a state which legalizes them, he would support a constitutional amendment. Given the increasing number of states legalizing gay marriages, it's almost a given that a court decision such as suggested by McCain will happen.

McCain got the best of Obama when the two were asked to name the most gut-wrenching decision they've ever made. Obama cited his opposition to the war in Iraq. McCain's was much more personal. He cited a decision as a POW to pass up an opportunity to be freed early ahead of other soldiers who had been imprisoned longer. McCain said he and his fellow soldiers had a code of conduct whereby the first-in, first-out rule was followed. McCain declined the offer of freedom, meaning three very difficult, additional years in captivity. He said he never regretted his decision.

Warren asked the candidates an interesting question on which Supreme Court justice they believed should not be nominated. In a very mean-spirited way, Obama named the Court's only African-American, Clarence Thomas, who many traditional, liberal blacks opposed because of his conservative views. Ironically, Obama said Thomas was an unqualified jurist. That's pretty galling when you consider how shallow Obama's experience is for the high office of the presidency. McCain named all the Court's liberals, criticizing them for legislating from the bench.

On education, McCain's support for school choice, vouchers, charter schools and merit pay dwarfed Obama's guarded support for performance pay for teachers. Obama got into the silly class warfare talk of defining who is rich. A family making less than $150,000 is probably middle class, but he said anyone making more than $250,000 a year is probably rich. McCain jokingly answered $5 million. To him the question is irrelevant. He's not interested in taxing any taxpayer more, unlike Obama. Spending is the problem he said, not taxpayers being taxed too little.

I thought Obama stumbled badly on how he would confront evil. Not surprisingly, the evil he saw was within our own country. Al Quaeda slipped his mind. It didn't McCains's. He pledged to capture bin Laden and combat Islamic, fundamentalist-sponsored terrorism.

There is more I could talk about, but I'm getting a little tired at this point. Obama's supporters will no doubt complain that some of the questions were designed to favor McCain. For example, the question of doing more for the orphaned children in this world was perfect for McCain. He and his wife, Cindy, adopted a Bangladeshi infant from one of Sister Teresa's orphanages many years ago. As with so many of the questions, Obama was left talking about what he would like to do to encourage people to adopt children. Obama's life experiences are simply no match for McCains in so many ways. One other note on performance. As Obama answered his questions, his head was always cocked and slightly elevated. He constantly looked down at the table as he answered Warren's questions. McCain, by contrast, made good eye contact with Warren and the audience in the crowd. That should score McCain big points on trust. Obama's demeanor was discomforting to the discerning.


IslandGyal said...

I guess the person who posted that article thinks s/he is "objective" in their reporting, huh?!??!/

Vox Populi said...

I think most people would say they both did well, Gary. I would have been a little more interested in hearing from McCain about what led him to cheat on his wheelchair-bound wife and dump her for a beer heiress 20 years his junior, but I guess that wasn't the forum.

And seriously, let's look at the things where McCain "opposed" his party. In his pre-2000 congressional career he was pro-tax cuts. When George Bush put forward his tax cuts, McCain voted against him. When McCain decided to run for president again he decided he should have voted for the tax cuts.

McCain supported George Bush on allowing amnesty for illegal aliens before flopping when he decided to run for president. Now he wants the border fence and says he was wrong to support amnesty.

McCain was against offshore drilling, and has made comments as recently as this spring about how we can't drill ourselves out of the current situation. But suddenly, offshore drilling is the entire answer to fixing our energy situation? If that's the case, why doesn't he flip-flop on his opposition to drilling in ANWR?

I really don't comprehend how Republicans can support John McCain. The man has become a shadow of his former self. He is a serial panderer and a liar to boot. He makes John Kerry look competent.

Wilson46201 said...

Does AI have any opinions about the answers on "gay marriage" or are LGBT topics too icky for this Republican blog nowadays?


Excuse me for asking this, but I believe the American public MIGHT
have been duped by Pastor Rick, who looks silly in that goatee of his,
and he could lose some weight too......but what I am talking about is
this: you didn't mention it and nobody else, but I have a very strong
suspicion that the questions that Pastor Rick asked the two candidates
were GIVEN to both Obama and McCain in advance of the
"show"........why do I suspect this? because at one point Obama said
"I cheated here and did some research before hand.....I actually
looked at this idea ahead of time...."

he said this in response at first to one of Rick's question around the
45 minute time....

Gary R. Welsh said...

And the pro Obama supporters can think of nothing good to say about his performance? Vox, There's nothing like a complete mischaracterization of his divorce from his first wife, but if that's what you have to do ... at least he just doesn't pretend to be heterosexual.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Dan, I believe the candidates were told in advance the four general areas of questioning. On that point, I think Warren may have spoken on that issue of the number of children in orphanages around the world in the past. I think that's what Obama meant when he said he cheated a little. I'm sure someone on his campaign researched topics which Warren would likely want to discuss.

Anonymous said...

Are you actually trying to claim that Obama is gay?

Wow, we've really suck to a low point on this blog.

Gary, good question on the gay marriage issue. What do you think of the two responses?

And yeah, in that setting, I think Obama did his best. I really don't want a President who strikes off an answer before reflecting about it.

And did McCain ever identify who would be in his cabinet?

BTW, I can't wait until McCain chooses Ridge or Lieberman for VP.

Anonymous said...

Ok. Even though Gary appears slightly disinterested in objective analysis, I'm going to ask a few questions related to last night's debate.

1. If McCain said that he wouldn't have nominated Souter and Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, why did he vote to confirm them to begin with?

2. I've noticed that he's pointedly invoked Christianity as part of his Georgia spiels. His rather evasive answer about Sudan/Darfur makes me wonder if a country's religious nature is what makes it worthy of US support.

3. For someone who likes to tell torture stories about the Viet Cong, he's remarkably silent about US torture policies in Guantanamo. Why is that?

4. This is the comment that raised my eyebrow the most. McCain said that the moral failure of the US was its failure to put aside self-interest for a "greater service". What EXACTLY was he getting at there? Was he implying that torturing Guantanamo prisoners in the name of 9/11 was morally correct? Did he mean that lying about Iraq's involvement in 9/11 (see Ron Suskind's book) was actually a moral thing to do? Does this mean that the GOP's unfortunate tendency to label political opponents as being traitors to the US is a "Christian" thing to do.

I think both candidates did well. However, I think some of McCain's more blatant pandering to the religious right has the possibility to erode his support in the center.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Traditionally, there has been bipartisan support in the Senate for a president's Supreme Court nominees as long as they are qualified for the job. Souter and Ginsburg were both qualified candidates. McCain voting against Clinton's nomination of Ginsburg would not have yielded a more conservative nominee from Clinton. In the spirit of bipartisanship, McCain supported her nomination. You have it wrong on McCain's position on torture techniques in interrogations. He cited that last night as a point on which he has differed from the Bush administration.

Eclecticvibe said...

Ruth Bader Ginsberg is not the most liberal justice on the court. John Paul Stevens is generally considered the most liberal, and he was appointed by Gerald Ford. While Obama's appointees will certainly be somewhat to the left of McCain's, I doubt we'll see an true liberal appointments during the next four years. I would anticipate a moderate appointment from either side. Ralph Nader for Supreme Court Justice--that's liberal!

daltonsbriefs said...

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