Saturday, August 16, 2008

Obama and McCain Present Contrasting Views and Styles in Warren’s Civil Forum

In back-to-back interviews of Barack Obama and John McCain this evening, the Rev. Rick Warren gave a far more credible performance than Wolf Blitzer, Brian Williams, or any other media representative could have pulled off. But then Warren’s objective was a “civil forum,” and neither our old or new media has matured sufficiently to even entertain that concept.

Warren asked a series of substantive questions without attempting to embarrass or confuse his guests and as a result viewers were given the opportunity to get a better understanding of where each of the major party’s presumptive nominees stands on important issues and also a glimpse of the character and contrasting styles of the two men.

Considering they were in a church and being interviewed by a pastor, it was revealing that when Warren began by asking each guest to name three wise people to whom they might turn to for advice as president, neither candidate mentioned a minister or other religious leader. Obama mentioned his wife Michelle and his grandmother before listing several congressional leaders. McCain mentioned Gen. Petraeus, Rep. John Lewis, and Meg Whitman, a campaign advisor and former president and CEO of Ebay.

As was to be expected, Obama gave a more nuanced and liberal point of view on questions about abortion, stem cell research, Supreme Court justices, and gay marriage; whereas, McCain responded with the standard conservative positions that no doubt helped him solidify his base in the Republican Party.

As for style, Obama does not do well in a setting where he’s forced to speak spontaneously. He’s much more at home behind a podium, reading from a teleprompter to a large adoring crowd. He performed in this particular setting much as he did in the debates during the Democratic primary, stammering and stuttering while meandering his way to a conclusion.

He did, however, succeed in effectively making the one point that has been the basis for his campaign for the presidency: he reminded his audience that he opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning, although he was not a member of the United States senate at the time and therefore was not required to cast a vote on the issue.

In contrast to Obama, McCain was forceful and to the point in his answers, plus he frequently connected to his audience with compelling anecdotes from his personal experiences as a prisoner of war and as a leader in the United States Senate who has often taken bi-partisan positions. He noted that he hadn’t been elected “Mr. Congeniality” in the senate again this year.

Although I’m personally much more in agreement with Obama on the major issues addressed by both candidates this evening, I have to say that McCain was the more impressive candidate in the succinct, forceful manner in which he presented his views.

Correction: McCain differed from the conservative position on stem cell research; he said he supported it.

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