If you were watching the friendly patty-cake like event that took place at Rick Warrens mega church in sunny California, you either saw a very genuine Barack Obama or a very quick-thinking John McCain. If watched the event twice then you saw an authentic Barack Obama in a somewhat politically hostile environment or John McCain giving a stump speech (which was against the rules).
"John McCain, who has been deemed a “maverick" for years, played the part well and seemed not to play by Warren's guideline. Instead, he took the opportunity during the discussion, carried live by cable news networks, to stick hard to the message he's been driving across the country since running for president. Almost none of the lines or stories were new, but McCain jumped from sharp, brief answers to weaving through his tried-and-true anecdotes, many of which his audience, and Warren, seemed to have never heard before."
And finally, if you watched it three times then you saw Barack Obama dodging pro-life questions and would have started to think that John McCain was not in a silent room, but in fact privied to the questions beforehand.
All in all I think that the forum did not offer too much insight into either candidates religious convictions, rather it was a tease of how the debates are going to be. Obama appeared cool and did well within the confines of the preset conditions of avoiding a stump speech. McCain answered all the questions well and appeased his base, but did not show anything besides well-rehearsed talking points.
However, I cannot spin this as a win. It was not a loss though. Obama showed his true self, but he did so in a vexxing manner that did not sink into the less-complex crowd at the Saddleback mega-churh. McCain, however, did connect with them by relaying personal stories of heroism and failed marriage. If I were to give each candidate a rating, I would give Obama a B and McCain an A-. While the media will use this event as more "Why can't Obama close the deal?" garbage, the numbers will not move in any one's direction. Why?
As pun-ish as it sounds, McCain was preaching to the choir. He summed up his entire existence with with his catch phrases and appealed to his base. He did not win any new voters. In fact, he made it very difficult for those women on the fence to cross to his side with his anti-choice mantra.
I think that this event was some proof the Obama will destroy McCain in the debates.
My reasons are as follows:
1. The Religious forum took place on the same day as Michael Phelps breaking the record for most Gold Medals at an Olympics in the history of the sporting event. If you look at all the news wires that is the big story, not a critique of performances of the presidential candidates. Bottom Line: This provided Obama with general election debate experience, on a day when the forum was not the big story.
2. The one group that was following this event closely and are in a position of influence were the pundits in the MSM. All the performance did was raise the bar for the undecided evangelical crowd for McCain's debate performances in October. The pressure on him will be intense and it will be especially difficult for him to tamp down expectations. Its very rare having an event like this prior to one of the sanctioned presidential debates.
3. Obama now can critique McCain's most recent answer style habits with the moderator (in this case, Warren) and be able to put McCain on the defensive because what we saw from the him were slogans and stand up comedy, not solutions to address the struggles of average Americans. I guarantee that Obama debate prep staff will analyze this video closely and derive some very valuable information from it.
4. Obama was attempting to appeal to a group that was firmly situated in McCain's camp before this event. I feel that moderate evangelicals that want to avoid a Bush third term will focus on the overture by Obama in simply attending this event rather than focus on the style he used. In this case his mere presence as a Democratic nominee in a well known evangelical church provides Obama with the unifying message that he has been advocating on the campaign trail.
Again, I am not saying there was a winner or loser in this event. Both candidates approached it differently.
But what about the young, independent minded evangelicals? To many, McCain was indistinguishable from Bush in his answers and I have to believe that the intelligent young people who have challenged being used by the "Religious Right" would notice that this is just more of the bellicose, unthinking, unfeeling diatribe and see the stirring differences between Obama and McCain.
McCain, as Pat Buchanan said, "was black and white" and Buchanan presented that as a positive. I think that even the Evangelicals of this country are 'burned out' with the rigidity of this point of view.
To the older evangelicals, Obama did not win tonight, but he lost them when he registered as a Democrat. What he didn't do was lose the young evangelicals. In this respect, Saddleback was just what Obama needed. He appeared more church-like and respectful. He came across as someone who actually went to church. McCain blustered in, with all his prepared answers and didn't look into himself at all. (From what I can gather, most thoughtful people of religion do look into themselves as a primary route to their beliefs and ethics and actions. And they can recognize when someone is not willing or able to look inside themselves.)
The fact that McCain used his POW experience as a feint to take attention away from his inability to be thoughtful/religious/spiritual about the questions that were actually asked, is indicative of his religious shallowness.
To me, Obama came across as a person of faith and McCain came across as a political, glad-handing slick operator. But that was my take. I don't think Obama lost to the group he was trying to appeal, the Matthew 25 Group.
To me, the real loser in this forum was Rick Warren. I went into tonight with curiosity about him and have come away with a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed to me that he repeatedly cut off Obama, who was trying to expand on his answers and hurried him on the questions. And yet, he let McCain go on and on and even took McCain back to the Georgia question. The fact that he didn't rein in McCain the way that he did Obama, showed an egregious lack of balance. I think that was disgusting.
It became evident that he was doing a home shopping network promotion for McCain. I am disgusted with Warren.
Recap: The win/loss scenarios...
McCain won the night by appealing to his older base.
Obama lost the night because he wasn't stumpy enough.
McCain won the night because he made all political points.
Obama lost because he only revealed his faith.
Obama won because he stood up for women's rights.
McCain lost because he made his anti-choice beliefs VERY clear.
Obama won because he appealed to a wider-spectrum.
McCain lost because he raised his faux-evangelical bar too high for October.
Obama won because I like him more.
McCain lost because he's difficult to look at or listen to.