Presidential hopefuls, Illinois Senator Barack Obama and Arizona Senator John McCain, spoke candidly about issues of leadership at Saddleback megachurch in Lake Forest on Aug. 16.
The candidates were grilled non-debate style about their moral values, their greatest failures and how to handle the evil permeating the world.
Dr. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church pastor and author of best-selling book “The Purpose Driven Life,” hosted the event. This was the first of four scheduled meetings of the candidates, and it marked the first time that a political event was held at the megachurch.
The order of the candidates’ interviews was determined by a coin toss. Obama, the first to be interviewed, did not hesitate to elaborate on his answers, but avoided trumpeting liberal statements. However, far from shying away from Warren’s personal questions, Obama openly admitted substance abuse during his youth and that he favored his family as one of his main sources of wisdom. Obama was eager to cite the struggle of growing up without a father and achieving success despite financial hardship.
Obama danced around many of Warren’s more controversial questions, such as political stances on abortion and gay marriage.
For instance, when Warren asked if and when a baby receives human rights, Obama responded: “That question is a little above my pay grade.” After a laugh, he went on to state his support of the Roe v. Wade decision, but emphasized the common ground he and Warren could find in working to prevent future abortions – a play in Obama’s emphasis on unity, or as he said, “the ability to build bridges across partisan and racial lines.”
When it was McCain’s turn to speak, he stayed concise and steered the conversation. Although the senator mentioned that alternative energy such as wind and nuclear sources would be a priority in his administration, he made it clear that he firmly supports offshore drilling.
“We’ve got to drill now, we’ve got to drill here and we’ve got to become independent on foreign oil,” McCain said.
Now even the Democrats seem to be shifting their own stance on drilling offshore. Earlier in August, House of Representative speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Congress would examine the current drilling ban. Senator Obama, who earlier was opposed to this idea, seemed to also change his mind.
According to a New York Times report earlier this month, Obama would consider drilling in the Gulf of Mexico if oil companies were not given tax breaks.
Jan Bruekner, a professor of economics at UC Irvine, suggested that offshore drilling would only be a temporary solution.
“It would take at least 10 years for pumping of newly-discovered offshore oil to begin,” Bruekner said. “The volume of production wouldn’t be large enough to significantly affect the world oil price, but at least the U.S. would be less dependent on foreign oil.”
Despite the growing deficit, the Arizona senator reassured voters that he would keep taxes low. According to Professor of Economics Amihai Glazer, tax cuts aimed at the less than wealthy may help stimulate a starving economy.
“The direct effect of a tax cut on the deficit is about the same when the rich get a tax cut as when others do,” Glazer said. “A tax cut which targets the non-rich, however, does more to stimulate the economy, thereby increasing tax receipts, and so indirectly would make for a smaller deficit than a tax cut aimed mostly at the rich.”
When asked about what he would do about evil, McCain quickly referenced his way to defeat it.
“If I’m president of the United States, if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice,” McCain said.
When asked if and when a baby is entitled to human rights, McCain received a quite emphatic cheer in a mostly evangelical congregation.
“At the moment of conception,” McCain said. “As president of the United States, I will be a pro-life president and have pro-life policies.”
Although Obama has been riding the momentum from his speech at the Democratic National Convention, McCain’s announcement of his new running mate, Sarah Palin, the Governor of Alaska, has gained back some political ground.
Palin, a first-term governor and the first woman to serve as governor for Alaska, has been a noted whistleblower and has cracked down on corporate and Republican corruption in her state. Notably, she has voted in favor of the Alaskan Oil Pipeline measures to provide another source of oil to the lower 48 states and has supported a motion to issue rebates drawn from oil profits of $1,200 to every Alaskan citizen in order to combat high gas and oil prices.
Responses to the nomination have been mixed, from confidence for a reformer with similar policies as McCain to amusement at a last-ditch effort to pander to female voters left adrift from Hillary Clinton’s loss of the Democratic nomination.
The forum was a unique opportunity to observe both presidential candidates’ responses to controlled questions. Obama preferred to elaborate — to the extent that McCain was able to answer several more questions — though he banked on his charm to hide his broader statements. Such statements included his answer to how he would combat evil.
“We see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil sadly in the streets of our cities … It has to be confronted squarely … We are not going to [be able] to erase evil from the world. That is God’s task, but we can be soldiers in that process,” Obama said.
McCain preferred short, confident statements and coasted on the applause from the conservative audience. Although Warren tried to push both candidates, he seemed more responsive to Obama’s grounded and family-oriented answers rather than McCain’s authoritative and clearly conservative stance.