I wondered if Rick Warren would really try to find out where John McCain and Barack Obama are coming from concerning their faith. Although I believe Warren could have spent a little more time with some tough follow-up questions, I would have to say overall he did a good job. He didn’t shy away from the hard questions over abortion, homosexual marriage, personal faith, and moral consistency. I think he caught both candidates a bit off-guard with some of the questions (particularly the question “Does evil exist?) but overall, both candidates faired very well. We didn’t see or hear a “smoking gun” or “gotcha” moment that will make headlines for the next several days but if people were really listening to the questions and answers what we did see and hear was a grand canyon sized difference in the candidates core values.
There were two moments where Barack Obama seemed obviously uncomfortable and unprepared. He had to know he was going to get the abortion question but I think he was thrown off base by the way the question was phrased. Obama thought he was going to get a generic question about his views on abortion and instead, Warren hit him with when does life begin? Obama’s answer was not very inspiring for someone who is supposed to be one of the smartest people on the planet. Obama said, “Whether you are looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity is above my pay grade.” He sputtered on to say, “I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe V. Wade and come to that conclusion not because I’m pro-abortion, but because I don’t think women make these decisions casually.”
Obama’s answer makes if very hard for born-again evangelicals who are trying to turn Obama into a pro-life candidate to make a case. When it comes to when life begins he doesn’t know. When it comes to whether you protect that life or not it’s up to the mother. His answer reveals that he is not some kind of “new Democrat” who is busy carving out a new path for the Party on abortion, but rather a old school Democrat who will protect abortion at every level and at any cost.
My dad used to have a saying, “Be sure you can back up what is in the display window with what you have in the stock room.” By asking the abortion question as a “when does life begin” question, Warren forced Obama to reveal the contents of the stock room.
John McCain’s best moment came with the abortion question. When McCain was asked “At what point does a baby get human rights in your view” without pause, hesitation, or stuttering, McCain said, “At the moment of conception.” After the longest applause of the night died down he added, “I have a 25-year pro-life record in Congress and as President of the United States, I will be a pro-life president and this presidency will have pro-life policies.” Talk about hitting one out of the park…McCain blasted that question into the upper deck, over the green monster at Fenway. His answer was crisp, concise, and clear leaving absolutely no room for ambiguity. Now we will have to see if he backs his answer up by choosing a pro-life running mate.
Warren threw the candidates another curve by asking who of the current members of the bench they would have excluded. Again, I believe Obama was caught off guard and his answer revealed just how far left he would take the court if he were elected. It also seemed to be anot so subtle slap in the face of African-Americans when he suggested the only black member of the court, Clarence Thomas, was, “not a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation.” That answer echoes the far left bloggers who often assail Clarence Thomas as being unintelligent and downright dull. Obama admitted his other choice, Scalia, was smart enough for the job but he didn’t agree with his interpretation of the Constitution. So now we know if Obama is elected President he will fill the court the exact opposite of the conservative Thomas and Scalia. This is another clear revelation that should give evangelicals pause.
McCain answered the same question by ticking off the names of Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, and Stevens, the four most liberal members of the court. Again, McCain drew a stark contrast between his view of the court and Obama’s.
Finally, and perhaps most revealing, was Obama and McCain’s answer to the question about the existence of evil. Obama went on and on giving example after example illustrating that evil exists but he never got around to answering how he would deal with evil. He did say we should “confront it when we see it” but he just had to throw in the idea that we might just be evil ourselves saying, “just because we think our intentions are good doesn’t always mean that we’re going to be doing good.”
Once again, McCain’s answer went straight to the heart of the question. Concerning what should down about evil he answered simply, “defeat it.” After promising to get Osama Bin Laden he drove his point home about evil saying, “Of course evil must be defeated. My friends, we are facing the transcendent challenge of the 21st century….radical Islamic extremists.”
More than any debate, campaign add or pundit interview, Rick Warren laid open the heart of John McCain and Barack Obama. For those who care about the issues the candidates positions are clear. John McCain, if he lives up to his word, will defend the moral values most evangelicals believe are critical to the future of our country. Barack Obama, if he lives up to his word, will not.
Dr. Tony Beam is Vice-President for Student Services and Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.