Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 18, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

OBAMA AT SADDLEBACK....Liberals have been in a dither for several weeks now over Barack Obama's supposedly listless campaign performance following his return from Europe, and as near as I can tell this turned into something close to panic after his performance in Saturday's Saddleback Church pseudo-debate. Obama was deliberate and thoughtful! McCain was direct and forceful! Joe and Jane Sixpack will take wrong but strong every time!

Give me a break. Of course McCain was direct and forceful. He was on his home turf and he could afford to be. Abortion? Life begins at conception. Gay marriage? Against it. Tough calls? Let me tell you about the Vietnamese prison guard who drew a cross in the dirt.

Obama, of course, had no such option. What's he going to say? That he has a 100% approval rating from NARAL? Gay marriage is a gift from God? We should nuke Tehran?

If this had been an AFL-CIO forum, the tables would have been turned. But it wasn't, and Obama played the hand he was dealt. That's life. Obama's campaign tactics will almost certainly get more aggressive after the convention, when most people finally start paying attention, but in the meantime it's worth noting that Obama's performance at Saddleback Church might have been better than all the heathens who read this blog think. McCain, to my ears, sounded almost robotic talking about his faith, not like someone who truly has a deep connection with his church — and I'll bet that came through to more than a few viewers. See recovering evangelical Stephen here for more on that. And then take a look at Rick Warren's followup sermon on Sunday:

"Don't just look at issues, look at character," Warren said to a crowd of nearly 3,000 during one of two morning sermons at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. "Look at the candidate and say, 'Does he live with integrity, service with humility, share with generosity, or not?' "

Don't just look at the issues. That's not exactly an endorsement or anything, but it sure sounds like Warren is doing his best to tip the scales in favor of the guy who might be pro-choice, but also has a deeper, more thoughtful faith than the other guy. Just saying.

Kevin Drum 11:58 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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McCain, to my ears, sounded almost robotic talking about his faith...

"Jesus Christ is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life."

Posted by: Grumpy on August 18, 2008 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

As I watched Rick Warren's forum on Saturday, I kept looking for audience responses that would evidence the rise of the so-called 'moderate evangelicals' I kept hearing about. You know, the ones not solely focused on gay marriage and abortion. Well, the biggest applause lines/responses were during McCain's session on the old standbys, gay marriage and abortion. If this crowd what the media is talking about with the new moderate evangelicals?

Posted by: RollaMO on August 18, 2008 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Concern over Obama's prospects have more to do with the fact that he's been sliding in national polls and state polls for weeks now. He had a cushion which is now gone. McCain is defining him but Obama hasn't been able to define McCain.

Aren't YOU concerned that Obama has lost his lead in Ohio, in Colorado, and has diminishing leads in just about every other swing state?

Obama will make an excellent President. Will he get the chance to prove it?

Posted by: Curt M on August 18, 2008 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

As I watched Rick Warren's forum on Saturday, I kept looking for audience responses that would evidence the rise of the so-called 'moderate evangelicals' I kept hearing about. You know, the ones not solely focused on gay marriage and abortion. Well, the biggest applause lines/responses were during McCain's session on the old standbys, gay marriage and abortion. Is this crowd what the media is talking about with the new moderate evangelicals?

Posted by: RollaMO on August 18, 2008 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is that at this time, it is necessary to go on the offense. Rope-a-dope is not gonna win the Presidency.

1) McSame has no economic plan - why is this not being said?

2) McBombBombBomb is a hotheaded, impulsive moron, and can't be trusted with his finger on the nuclear trigger. Where is the daisy ad?

3) McLiar is not running his "respectful" campaign.

When are the gloves coming off? I do not want to spend 2 months watching this kind of SHIT again. Once with Kerry was enough.

GET ON WITH IT, OBAMA. CALL McCAIN OUT ON THIS SHIT!!!!

Posted by: POed Lib on August 18, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Setting Saddleback aside for the moment, I'm more concerned with the overall theme of this campaign. I have yet to see hard punches at McCain by Obama on any subject. And there is plenty of material for Obama to work with here. Everything Obama puts out is in response to the latest over-the-top "charge" by the McCain campaign, be it anti-Americanism, anti-patriotism, the horror of being popular, or Obama as the treasonous traitor regarding Iraq. Obama needs to get with it and fight back. This is his election to lose and he's well on his way.

Posted by: ckelly on August 18, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Obama had a net win. Why?
Because he disarmed the evangelical venom by showing up and demonstarting that he is not a godless windsurfing liberal like John Kerry (jk).

Evangelicals will never be overly pro McSame. They don't trust his "conservative-ness", so if Obama disarms the right's ability to ramp up the Obama fear by showing up at events like this, he has a net winner.

The likelyhood that a number of unenthusiatic right wingers will stay home on election day is better if they know Obama, and aren't afraid of him (because they saw him at this event), and are not to psyched about McCain. They don't have to vote for Obama. They just don't have to show up to stop him winning.
Net winner BHO.

Posted by: cboas on August 18, 2008 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Lib: I originally had a sentence or two about this in the post, but decided to cut them out. The answer, I think, is obvious: after the conventions, when the campaign really gets rolling and people are finally paying attention. Obama is keeping his powder relatively dry until then, and that's not necessarily a bad strategy.

Posted by: Kevin Drum on August 18, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

I wish the American Association for the Advancement of Science would invite the two candidates to a similar forum.

"Do you believe in modern Immunology (which requires that you first accept evolution)?"

"Do you believe politicans should reject objective evidence in preference to their beliefs (implying delusional behaviour)?"

Posted by: Asteroid Al on August 18, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sick and tired of the religious bullshit.

If some people want to believe in some sort of imaginary deity, that's their business, and unless they are outright hurting somebody, then they can go about their business (and a lot of it is BIG business) without government interference.

By the same token, religion needs to keep its collective nose out of government and politics. Tax-free status is their reward (undeserved, if you ask me).

They can have their adventures on Saddleback Mountain. I just don't want to hear anything about it.

Let's separate church and state, and KEEP it that way.

Posted by: Ranger Jay on August 18, 2008 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is doing fine post Europe; the contrary view is idiocy. Look at state by state polling, and look at his hard hitting state ads. He is not playing softball.

Of course he could lose. It could rain tomorrow, too. But amateurs who think he's blowing it are just wrong. McCain is riding on 20 years of successful REpublican branding. Obama is creating something new from near-scratch.

It's a fantasy to think that McCain could easily be destroyed. The economy is just not bad enough to overwhelm the branding.

Posted by: Frank C. on August 18, 2008 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is keeping his powder relatively dry until then

OMG. did you actually just use the most tired, old, thread-bare play-it-safe establishment Dem phrase ?

what's next, Obama sends McCain a sternly-worded letter ?

Posted by: cleek on August 18, 2008 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Slightly off topic -- this is the funniest damn thing I've heard all year.

"She Left Me for Jesus."

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyxEO9dqi44

Posted by: thersites on August 18, 2008 at 12:28 PM | PERMALINK

And today it is coming out that (a) McSameAsBush quite likely cheated by getting wind of the questions before he got onstage; and (b) may very well have stolen his "cross in the dirt" story from THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO.

Wouldn't you think someone who brazenly lied and cheated IN A HOUSE OF GOD would not have the character to be President (or even dog catcher)?

Posted by: EdgewaterJoe on August 18, 2008 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

Amen Brother Kevin!

I tuned in and the first thing I heard was McCain talking about how he is against raising taxes (in response to the question "Define rich"). That was clearly a shallow, pandering response, and I tuned out immediately...

Posted by: Detroit Dan on August 18, 2008 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Obama needs to start hitting the rightist spin hard against things like the Georgia mess (see below in comments) etc. It looks like he and his people are already smacking back against the new swiftboating instead of wussing it out like Kerry. I suggest Obama quickly pick Joe Biden for VP to boost him. Biden isn't perfect, but comes across as "distinguished", articulate, has foreign policy chops (Tim Kaine, bless him, is a nice guy but just isn't peripatetic enough), etc. They would look nice together too.

Posted by: Neil B. ☼ on August 18, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

"Do you believe in modern Immunology (which requires that you first accept evolution)?"

I know this is off topic, but I could not pass this up without comment. The writer of this sentence is just incredibly naïve. There is nothing about modern immunology which is predicated on an acceptance of evolution.

Posted by: John Hansen on August 18, 2008 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Clarification: I meant in the below threads, not this same thread.

(Initials used to foil idiotic "Too many comments have been submitted from you in a short period of time." - hey, what if I need to post a correction etc?)

Posted by: NB on August 18, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

I sure hope you are correct about Obama keeping his powder dry until after the conventions because otherwise he is toast.

Posted by: Lew on August 18, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Obama should be a *darling* of the religious right, since he "converted" to Christianity from one of the supposedly most oppressive mind-controlling religions (Islam; even worse than Catholicism in this regard?) Believers are supposed to think that those who convert are more admirable than those who had it easy. That's from the converts making their own effort to reach the Faith instead of having it easy being raised in the Faith, etc. But we have learned not to expect consistency from the religious/right. Still, try it out on your religious friends/threads/posts/radio call-in etc. and see what happens.

Posted by: Neil B. ☼ on August 18, 2008 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

Ranger Jay: I'm sick and tired of the religious bullshit.

Agree, and with your whole post. But in political reality you have to play along with those folks. This is a country in which many people would rather their daughter marry a Moslem, or (gasp) a minority, than an atheist.

Never could figure out why people who need the fear of a supernatural being to make them behave themselves are morally superior to a secular person who figures out for his or herself how to behave decently, but there it is.

Posted by: thersites on August 18, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

"Don't just look at issues, look at character"

Personally, I would rather have a president who's a real bastard in his personal life, but who can run the economy, execute a half-sane foreign policy, and make sure the machinery of government carries out its functions with a modicum of competency. We haven't had a particularly good run in this country electing pious Christian boy scout-types to the highest office in the land.

Posted by: jonas on August 18, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Neil B. I don't think Obama is considered a convert because he was raised by his Methodist mother and grand parents from an early age. His Muslim father had little or nothing to do with his upbringing.

Posted by: slanted tom on August 18, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

I would say the night is a net win for Obama if the story coming out of Saddleback is that McCain cheated. Think of it, McCain cheating on his home turf in front of a friendly crowd. McCain has to cheat to pass the Evangelical exam, and that's his base. What a McLoser.

Posted by: kidkostar on August 18, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

John Hansen on August 18, 2008 at 12:37 PM said:

There is nothing about modern immunology which is predicated on an acceptance of evolution.

Princeton Univerity, he National Center for Biotechnology Information and the NIH would disagree with you. For one example, I refer you to _Immunology and Evolution of Infectious Disease_ by Steven A. Frank.

Posted by: Asteroid Al on August 18, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

Jonas,

"Don't just look at issues, look at character"

Personally, I would rather have a president who's a real bastard in his personal life, but who can run the economy, execute a half-sane foreign policy, and make sure the machinery of government carries out its functions with a modicum of competency.

Well, so would I, when you come right down to it, but then I live in heathen Europe so what can you expect.

Thing is, lots of salt-of-the-earth types place great stress on "character", or at least the outward facade of same. People should choose Obama over McCain, but not because Obama is almost priggishly upright whilst McCain is a dishonest, corrupt adulterer. But if that is why these people make their choice, I am sure Obama will manage to be strong about receiving their votes.

And if they are persuaded to give Obama serious consideration by the urgings of an evangelical reverend to think of "character" rather than whether the candidate will reliably lower taxes on the rich while punishing homos who want to get married and sluts who want contraception, well then: urge on, reverend sir.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton on August 18, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Andrew Sullivan's blog has a Warren quote in which Warren refers to Obama as a Holocaust denier (because of being pro-choice). So, no, I don't think Warren is trying to tip the scales to Obama.

Posted by: Jim E. on August 18, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Slanted tom, my point was more to the issue of self-consistency among those who believe or find the Obama-Muslim story credible. Put in out there and it will gum of the works of the "Obama was a Muslim" meme because the conversion issue will work against the implications that meme might otherwise have.

A general note: Lots of what we have to do is based on this sort of "Suppose for the sake of argument that _____ was actually true; then it wouldn't matter anyway (or would ironically be even better for our side instead) because therefore: ..." in order to cause problems for various notions and attempts we are fighting.

tyrannogenius

Posted by: Neil B. on August 18, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on August 18, 2008 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

This is interesting about how McCain may have had special advantage at Saddleback, then his people denied it:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/08/18/nyt-backs-up-nbc-mccain-w_n_119476.html

Posted by: N. B on August 18, 2008 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin....I hope that on NOvember 5 I'll post a comment that says "by gosh, O is the new president by a landlide and that Kevin Drum sure was smart to see it."

Because otherwise....no...i don't even want to think about otherwise.

Posted by: Democratus on August 18, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

To Rick Warren's audience, character probably equals "soldier, establishment, grandfatherly". Issues equals reality. What he was saying was, don't pay attention to what's going on in the world/country. Vote for the guy on the Straight Talk Express. He has character.

BAH!

Posted by: bluewave on August 18, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

I think the really loser of the Saturday show was Rick Warren.

He had a golden opportunity, better than any individual ever has had, to talk thoughtfully with the two major party nominees for President on national television.

And what did he do? He ran down a list of prepared questions with no real discussion. He did not draw the participants out to get beyond the "sound bites."

It was just downright silly of him to chide Obama about "stump speeches" when Obama was clearly thinking about the questions before he answered, and to sit there as St. John DID give stump speeches? I mean, really.

How could he NOT question St. John's reply of "he wasn't going to raise taxes" when the question was about "who is rich"? How could he NOT ask how McCain was going to help the poor and sick and needy if there were no tax revenues to pay for it?

A poor, poor performance.

Posted by: Cal Gal on August 18, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

"There is nothing about modern immunology which is predicated on an acceptance of evolution." - John "Clueless" Hansen

John, huge swaths of immunology depend on evolutionary biology. Ever heard of HLA Class I and II molecules? Immunogenetic differences in susceptibility to infectious and autoimmune diseases in various ethnic groups? Viral escape from CTL responses? Sooty mangabey and rhesus macaque immunogenetic differences and their effects on SIV pathogenesis? The list goes on and on. If you are going to make a comment, think for a second or two first - otherwise, you sound like ol' Sid McCain.

Posted by: Chuck Darwin on August 18, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin is the first blogger whose reax matches my own. I mean, of course McCain was terse and forceful: he was only checking the boxes (and evidently very pleased with himself for knowing the 'right' answers). I'm not a conservative Christian, but I'm sure that at least a couple of conservative Christians rolled their eyes after hearing McCain rattle off the five pro-Roe votes as the justices he wouldn't have nominated.

It's always quicker and easier to tell someone you agree with them than it is to explain to someone why you don't agree with them. I was impressed just to hear Obama getting applause that went beyond the 'polite' level.

Posted by: neil on August 18, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Good analysis. (I usually only comment when I disagree, so I thought should make an exception for once. ;) )

Posted by: Crust on August 18, 2008 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Obama played the hand he was dealt.

Nobody forced him to go kiss Rick Warren's ring.

Posted by: kc on August 18, 2008 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK

I really don't understand what Obama was trying to do for his candidacy at Saddleback, but I fail to see how he came away with anything positive. There has been a lot of talk about Obama's inroads into the Christian evangelical vote, but on election day it will turn out to be illusory. The Sunday before election day, thousands of Christian pastors all across America will deliver a sermon which will make clear to all those in the pews that it is their duty to vote according to Christian principles, and that the highest principle on that list is pro-life. Now Obama could have explained how a Christian can be pro-choice ( such as separation of Church and State), or offer some sort of nuanced position; he punted. He quipped; it's not his job to explain his position. This is not the sort of issue one can not explain. "Not in my payscale" is going to be used in ads and it isn't going to sound cute. Let's hope voters realize what a flip-flopper McCain has been on the abortion issue.

Posted by: coldhotel on August 18, 2008 at 4:40 PM | PERMALINK

coldhotel wrote "The Sunday before election day, thousands of Christian pastors all across America will deliver a sermon which will make clear to all those in the pews that it is their duty to vote according to Christian principles, and that the highest principle on that list is pro-life"

I know my Christian pastor won't but I do understand your point. I think that Obama knows he won't win the conservative evangelical vote, but he doesn't have to. All he needs to do is break into it enough to pull down McCain's margins by a significant number of points. I think that's why younger, broader-minded evangelicals are the target here. It's the same with rural voters in states like mine - Missouri. He's not going to win them all over but if he can eat into those margins just enough then that, coupled with big Urban vote turnouts, will put him over the top. That's what his ground plan looks like here in any case.

Posted by: heather on August 18, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, what's your take on "cone-of-silence-gate"? Are the accusations true? If true, will it matter?

Posted by: Frank F on August 18, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Heather I agree with your points; I just think that Obama has to make McCain compete a lot harder for those votes. Even though many Christians (such as myself) don't automatically vote pro-life above any other consideration, I think it would be easier for them to support Obama if his position was a little more nuanced.

Posted by: coldhotel on August 18, 2008 at 5:43 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a Democrat and I'll be voting Obama for sure in November. But you know what? At Rick Warren's forum, Obama showed himself to be an uncreative ditherer. I was really disappointed.

How about this as an alternative answer to Obama's lousy non-answer to the abortion question: "A fetus gains rights at the point of viability, which is when it could survive outside the mother's womb. That point is growing earlier and earlier, thanks to modern medical science. But keep in mind that just because a fetus has rights doesn't mean it can totally overwhelm the rights of the mother. It's at the point of viability that we have to balance the rights of the unborn child against the rights of the mother. That has to be done carefully, and there can be room for states to vary in how they strike that balance. By the way, this is exactly what Justice Sandra Day O'Connor held in the Casey decision of 1992. One final point: I don't believe life itself begins at viability. Life is all around us, and it exists at conception and even before conception. The question, as you asked it, Reverend, is when do individual rights start to come into play. And all I can say is, they come into play at the point of viability."

Obama was actually SCARED to say that. He's a constitutional law professor; you can believe it occurred to him and is probably what we thinks. Instead, he said the question was "above his pay grade."

I think there is legitimate reason for people of principle to be disgusted at him.

Posted by: gjosh on August 18, 2008 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

Hooray for the new politics. It's great to see a Democrat argue that his boner for Jesus is bigger than his Republican rival. That argument always ends well for the Dems...

Posted by: Tuna on August 18, 2008 at 7:34 PM | PERMALINK

I'll declare upfront that I'm a lifelong Republican with grave concerns about John McCain. However, he helped assuage my fears on many issues Saturday night. I feel much better about him. And, McCain is clearly more qualified and better prepared by life to become President. By the way, I thouroughly enjoyed reading all these panic-stricken comments by all you liberals. Obama's campaing is failing because there is no "there" there...

Posted by: Brian on August 18, 2008 at 8:40 PM | PERMALINK

Obama embarassed himself because he is an empty suit, who without a teleprompter and canned speech is incoherent. The panic from the left, and the assertion that John McCain cheated (floated by an embarassed Obama campaign to cover a horrible performance) are the only proof needed to realize that the Democrats SCREWED up royally in throwing Bill and Hillary under the bus.

Posted by: jwbeuk on August 18, 2008 at 8:52 PM | PERMALINK

"Does he live with integrity, service with humility" -

I wish people would stop using "service" as a verb. It sounds like what the farmer arranges for the bull to do with the cow.

What's wrong with "serve"?

Posted by: Nancy Irving on August 18, 2008 at 10:05 PM | PERMALINK

beuk, brian, and davey, no panic, pain, anger or whatever here. Just folk shootin the breeze. Some Dems may be as you have described (some Repugs are asses, too) but I'ld wager that most of us are waiting for the real campaign to begin and watch our young self-made man take on your bought and paid for adulterous codger.

Posted by: keith g on August 18, 2008 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

I think you've got it exactly backwards. He's telling his people to vote for McCain. After all, evangelicals have been suspicious of McCain's position on their issues in the past. He's got that mavericky reputation. But Warren is letting them know that it's safe to support him.

I'm willing to believe that Obama thought he'd quiet their fears with this appearance, but I think they played him. Before this appearance many religious voters were uncertain about McCain's stance and may have been inclined to vote for Obama instead. But now it's been clarified who is willing to suck up to them and who isn't. Now they are much more McCain supporters and Obama opponents.

Posted by: sophronia on August 18, 2008 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

The direction of this blog makes no sense. Going into this election Obama's goal was to steal evangelical votes and doom McCain in North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia creating a landslide. This was the words of the campaign, who though McCain had little chance holding onto the evangelicals margin from 2004 of 75% -25%.

In that light the event was a complete and utter disaster for Obama. He was not forthright and strong in defending his pro-choice position, and his views on gay marriage were terrible. I think McCain has defended gays better.

Witness McCain in comparison speaking to the NAACP and Urban League. Not only did McCain show up, but he tried to convince the crowd of his correctness on positions.

After Saddleback it became clear to the Obama camp that the evengelical camp is a completely lost to him as it was to John Kerry in 04. That is why it was a disaster.

Posted by: Craig on August 19, 2008 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

And today it is coming out that (a) McSameAsBush quite likely cheated by getting wind of the questions before he got onstage; and (b) may very well have stolen his "cross in the dirt" story from THE GULAG ARCHIPELAGO.

Wouldn't you think someone who brazenly lied and cheated IN A HOUSE OF GOD would not have the character to be President (or even dog catcher)?
Posted by: EdgewaterJoe on August 18, 2008 at 12:32 PM ------------

Joe,
Interesting method of argument. In your first paragraph you use the slightly couched qualifiers "quite likely cheated" and "may very well have stolen" to imply wrong doing to a level just short of certainty without any proof.

Then in your second paragraph, you ask a question on a lack of character being a disqualifier for being President (or even dog catcher) based upon the premise that the implications in your first paragraph are not in dispute.

Well done. If you can't argue the law (rules in this case), argue the facts. If you can't argue the facts, argue the evidence. If you can't argue the evidence, act like there's no question the accused is guilty. Cheating, stealing, lying, all "IN A HOUSE OF GOD" proving a lack of character making him unfit to be elected dog catcher.

Posted by: majarosh on August 19, 2008 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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