But Obama is counting on Americans to look for something more than short bumpersticker answers designed to get applause
"Obama will be 'hammered by the religious right' for that 'pay grade' answer," says Rabbi James Rudin of New York City, former Interreligious Affairs director for the American Jewish Committee. Rudin was one of five religion and ethics experts asked by USA TODAY to observe the forum broadcast.
Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and now public policy director for the diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., the nation's sixth largest Catholic diocese, called the comment a "dodge that wasn't even intellectually respectable."
The Rev. Mark Coppenger of Evanston, Ill., a professor of Christian Apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, and former spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, branded the comment as "specious. Obama has made that very determination in opening the law wide to the killing of the unborn."
However, R. Alta Charo, a professor of law and ethics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, pointed out that Obama's position has been law since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. It "specifically says that neither biologists nor doctors nor theologians can agree upon the moral status of the fetus."
But since there is "absolute certainty that the woman herself does have moral status, then the conservative thing to do is to protect the woman's interests first," the court concluded.
McCain's statement that human rights attach at conception "still does not answer the question of what to do when there is a conflict with the rights of the woman," Charo says.
She also sees inconsistency between McCain's conservative views on when life begins and his support of embryonic stem cell research, which many conservative Christians oppose.
"If he believes in human rights at the moment of conception, then he ought to be against embryonic stem cell research, IVF and even the so-called 'rhythm method.' " which has the effect of timing intercourse not only to prevent conception, but also to allow conception at a time when the fertilized egg will drop into a uterus that is not at the right time of month for implantation."
In Defense of Rick Warren
TNR contributing editor Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, gives his take on Obama and McCain's appearance at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church yesterday:
If you watched the Best Political Team on Television discuss the joint appearance of Senators Obama and McCain Saturday night at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church, you heard a lot of chatter about which candidate performed better. In their usual manner, however, the mainstream media--or, as leftwing bloggers calls it, the Village--missed the point. The real debate was not between the candidates but between Rick Warren and the Best Political Team on Television.
Warren won, and in a landslide. His questions were at times inane, but nowhere near as inane as the campaign has been. Paris Hilton and Britney Spears made no appearance. Barack Obama was not asked to defend himself against the idea that he is a rootless celebrity. Speaking to one preacher, he was never asked to comment on his former preacher. This was politics before Karl Rove. The only question is whether it will also be politics after Karl Rove.
John McCain was given fair and balanced treatment as well. If he wanted to emphasize foreign policy, Warren let him do so. If he was more comfortable repeating stories he has told many times before, that was OK with the pastor. My guess--and it is only a guess--is that Rick Warren does not know much about policies in which he is not all that interested. But neither does McCain. Like Obama, he was allowed to project the kind of person he is.
All this was contrary, not to the media narrative of the campaign, but to the media's narrative of itself. We ask tough questions, television journalists convince themselves, and our job--remember Tim Russert--is to contrast what candidates say with what they said. But there is not, and never has been, anything tough about it. Candidates learn how to get their talking points across, no matter what the question. By the time the debates roll around, everything has been said, which means that everything is repeated.
I saw two men, not two candidates, speaking with Rick Warren. One was conversational, intelligent, and responsive. He seemed to listen to the questions, to think about them, and to answer them. I liked his performance, but, then again, I am a liberal and a Democrat. What was most interesting to me, though, was that Obama never pretended to be anything other than what he is. If you want a president who knows the details of policy on the one hand and thinks the world is complicated on the other, you would vote for this guy.
McCain also took the opportunity Warren offered to be himself. He was witty, energetic, and quick. He was far too quick for my tastes--I would not be happy with a president so convinced that his job was to rid the world of evil--but I was left in no doubt about how he views the world. Over the course of his career, there have been many John McCains: the conservative, the maverick, the conservative redux. But only one John McCain is about to receive the Republican Party's nomination for president in 2008, and that one got to show his stuff.
If Rick Warren's job was to elevate the tone of the campaign, he succeeded. Any person who had not been paying too much attention to the ads and the spin was offered a real choice about the nature of leadership. [..] This time, we will not be able to pretend afterwards that we did not know what the stakes were. For that we have Rick Warren, and not CNN or Fox, to thank.
(not knowing what he was talking about references a Bible quote that rolls off your tongue when you go to church...the basic "the least of these..." Did he have to be prompted to complete it?) But, that was small potatoes... Just made him appear to have just learned it for the night...
On the "greatest moral failing" question, Obama hit two home runs in a row. Framing his teenaged failings in terms of selfishness, of focusing on himself - very slyly giving a nod to Warren's "it's not about you" mantra - is exactly what Christians want to hear. Obama's answer is known as "giving your testimony" in conservative Christian (CC) circles; it shows a personal intimacy with the forms and content of Christianity. Obama's answer for America's greatest moral failing, quoting from Matthew 25, was pitch-perfect. You cannot argue with that answer, you cannot distort it, you cannot claim that Obama doesn't love America enough. And that he expanded it to apply to racism and sexism was good as well.
As for Obama's worldview, again he shows an ease with the concepts and vocabulary of American Christianity. "Get myself out of the way" is very good. The "acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly with our God" is a reference to Micah 6:8, one of the most popular Bible verses within Evangelical Christianity. [..] Again, I think Obama really believes this stuff, which is why he's able to be so natural with it all. He's actually read the Bible - unlike most Evangelicals - and it's important to him.
So in the "Saddleback Debate", where both Obama and McCain took questions from Pastor Rick Warren, Obama went on record as naming Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as someone he would not nominate as justice. Why? He was too young, too inexperienced, not prepared. Hmmm. Let's review.
Clarence Thomas was 43 years old when he was nominted by the elder George Bush. But he had plenty of legitimate expereince. He had been Assistant Attorney General of Missouri, Assistant Secretary of Education for the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, Chairman of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and served on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In other words, yes, Thomas was young, but qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice.
Barack Obama on the other hand, is 47 years old, not that much older than Thomas was. Obama is the inexperienced one. What has he done? Well, he served half a term in the United States Senate (not an exucutive body), seven years in the Illinois state senate, and was a community organizer in Chicago. His sucess in this regard can be shown by the droves of people leaving the suburbs to move to the inner city where Obama would transform the Windy City. Oh, wait, you mean that didn't happen?
The point is, Obama has no executive experience. True, McCain served in the Senate as well, but he has been here since before I was born. Obama is too young and inexperienced, yet he labels Clarence Thomas, one of our most brilliant jurisprudent minds as such. I think Sigmund Freud would call that projection.
"I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas," Obama said in response to a question about which justice he would not have appointed. "I don't think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation."