Faith-based hope in tonight’s debate

This season’s presidential election debates have been something of a letdown from a variety of perspectives. One area is a lack of discussion about religion. Feel free to disagree, but I believe that one’s religion informs a person’s public policy to varying degrees.

In a debate last night between Indiana’s gubernatorial candidates, a question was dedicated solely to the candidate’s religion and values. For me, it informed the discussion and the background of the candidates.

Maybe tonight (see transcript here) will make up for the previous debates being fairly unmemorable. Maybe there will be more direct references to religion. Then again, maybe not.

Once again, this blog will focus on the religious aspects of the debate. Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts.

9:07 PM: We got from relatively detailed discussions about economic plans to Obama’s conversation with a plumber named Joe in Iowa.

9:11 PM: A lot of discussion about small businesses, increasing taxes, lowering taxes, 95 percent of Americans and Warren Buffett.

9:17 PM: McCain says we have to stop sending a bunch of billions of dollars “to countries who don’t like us very much.” This is one of McCain’s favorite lines. I wonder how those “countries who don’t like us very much” feel about those comments. McCain is never specific about which countries he is referring to, but I imagine many people think of the Middle East even thought the United States receives a lot of oil from Venezuela due to its close location.

9:22 PM: Obama just noted that he supports charter schools.

9:25 PM: The candidates are asked to discuss the nasty attitude of their campaigns. The moderator in a round about way is asking Obama and McCain to ask each other for forgiveness.

9:26 PM: McCain doesn’t like being associated with America’s history of racism and asks Obama to repudiate those remarks. Basically: Obama says you’re sorry.

9:28 PM: Obama doesn’t say sorry and says that McCain started it. McCain looks angry.

9:32 PM: Obama says that Rep. Lewis inappropriately drew a comparison between what happened during this campaign and the civil rights movement. Obama says that American politics should move onto the serious differences between the candidates and stop focusing on the “tit-for-tat.”

9:34 PM: We’re still talking about what people yell at campaign rallies. I’m not sure what the candidates are trying to accomplish here.

9:35 PM: Obama says that we can disagree without being disagreeable. I think my parents tried to teach me that in the third grade.

9:38 PM: Obama details his relationship with a former terrorist and McCain says that that relationship matters a lot along with a group known as ACORN that McCain thinks may be undermining the country’s democracy.

9:40 PM: A discussion of running mates begins. I wonder if either candidate will say their candidate is less qualified than the other candidate. What a great question.

9:41 PM: Obama thinks Joe Biden is awesome.

9:43 PM: McCain says Sarah Palin understands the average American.

9:48 PM: McCain and Obama both want to stop importing oil from the Middle East and Venezuela.

9:55 PM: Free trade with South American countries: Obama suggests he wants to reconsider that and McCain thinks that’s a bad idea.

9:56 PM: The questions shift to healthcare. Obama says this is the issue that will break your heart over and over again.

9:59 PM: McCain says that we need physical fitness programs in schools and workplaces. I wonder if Obama would counter and say that his faith-based initiative would support putting gyms in churches. I doubt that will come up anytime in the next three weeks though.

10:05 PM: McCain says something about healthcare plans that provide for cosmetic surgeries. Those are bad.

10:06 PM: Roe v. Wade question regarding nominations to the Supreme Court.

10:06 PM: McCain says Roe v. Wade was a bad decision, the abortion decision should rest with the states, he doesn’t support a litmus test, judges should be appointed based on qualifications, and his Gang of 14 was an excellent thing to do that Obama didn’t do. McCain also says Obama voted against Justice Breyer. Um, that’s because he wasn’t in the Senate then.

10:08 PM: Responding to a follow-up, McCain says that he does NOT believe that a candidate’s support for Roe v. Rade would be part of a justice candidate’s qualifications.

10:09 PM: Obama says the most important thing for a justice is fairness and he wouldn’t impose a litmus test. The justice appointments are the most important decisions the next president will make and that Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance. Obama says that Abortion is a difficult issue and a moral issue that good people on both sides can disagree with. Ultimately Obama believes that women in consultation with their doctors are in the best position to decide. The right to privacy shouldn’t be subject to state referendum just like the many other rights we have are not subject to popular vote. Obama says he will look to judges who are smart, have experience in the real world.

9:11 PM: Obama rightly says that Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance and that the justice appointments will be the most significant decision.

9:12 PM: McCain brings up Obama’s votes in the Illinois state senate regarding abortion and his vote against a partial birth abortion ban. More on this later.

9:13 PM: Obama denies that he opposed a bill that would provide healthcare to an infant. Obama says the legislation would help undermine Roe v. Wade and that the law was redundant.

9:13 PM: Obama says he supports a complete ban on late-term abortions as long as there is an exception for the life and health of the mother. Obama should be asked to define what he means by life and health of the mother.

9:14 PM: Obama then says there is common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and says we should prevent unintended pregnancies.

This is the first serious discussion about Roe v. Wade in these presidential debates. Why is this question only coming up now? Neither candidate’s answer is all that satisfying. McCain wants the issue to be put to the states for votes. That fails to address the issue that some people believe that life begins sometime before birth since some states would legalize abortions. Obama wants to reduce abortions but wants the Supreme Court to continue to say that the Constitution to makes the right to an abortion superior to that of the life interest represented by the pro-life position.

One thought on the brief abortion discussion: neither candidate wanted to talk about it and said little new in terms of revealing additional details regarding their positions.

Final statements: McCain asks voters to consider which candidate they can trust most as “stewards.” Obama says that the American people are fundamentally decent.

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  • Michaelv

    McCain said Roe v. Wade should not be part of the qualifications for a judge? I was listening on the radio and didn’t hear a “not” – I could be wrong though.

    I think he intended to say “Roberts and Alito” rather than “Roberts and Breyer”?

  • Stephen A.

    The statement that McCain would NOT use a nominee’s position on Roe v Wade as a litmus test – when Obama clearly would – will infuriate the base of the GOP, which has always NOT been a true social conservative on this issue deep down in his heart, and will raise the old issue of his 2000 campaign statements, among which is the gem that it would be fine with him if his daughter had an abortion.

  • dpulliam

    I mistakenly heard and initially reported that McCain didn’t say NOT in his response to the follow-up. However, upon further review, McCain did say the second time that a candidate’s prior positions on Roe would NOT be part of their qualifications.

  • Mollie


    Though I don’t believe either Barack Obama or John McCain on their answers, I believe McCain’s was the same answer Bush gave in 2000 and 2004. The base didn’t seem to mind.

  • Jerry

    This is the first serious discussion about Roe v. Wade in these presidential debates. Why is this question only coming up now?

    I would say that most Americans are most concerned with having a President they trust to deal with all the upheaval they’re facing in their lives. Here’s just one example poll:{6FEE0A81-2CE1-4D18-A474-23B67991733E}&dist=hppr that illustrates that abortion is not a top-five issue. So much as some here might not like it, this is not an issue that most Americans consider important enough on which to base their vote. And the late appearance of abortion in the debates reflects that.

  • JayMagoo

    Are you folks familiar with the Constitution of the United States and the “no religious test” clause?

    The “no religious test” clause of the United States Constitution is found in Article VI, section 3, and states that:
    “ …no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. ”
    This has been interpreted to mean that no federal employee, whether elected or appointed, “career” or “political,” can be required to adhere to or accept any religion or belief. This clause immediately follows one requiring all federal and state officers to take an oath of support to the Constitution. This implies that the requirement of an oath, even presumably one taken “So help me God” (not a part of the presidential oath, the only one spelled out in the Constitution, but traditionally almost always added to it), does not imply any requirement by those so sworn to accept a particular religion or a particular doctrine.
    The clause is cited by advocates of separation of church and state as an example of “original intent” of the Framers of the Constitution of avoiding any entanglement between church and state, or involving the government in any way as a determiner of religious beliefs or practices. This is important as this clause represents the words of the original Framers, even prior to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

  • hoosier

    “some people believe that life begins sometime before birth”

    Actually, I think almost all people believe this. There’s no real debate about whether a fetus is ‘alive.’ The debate is about what kind of protection that form of life gets. Is it fully moral human life, just like you and me, or is it something else, like a spleen or a kidney or a brain dead person. Spleens, kidneys, and the brain dead are no less ‘alive’ than fetuses (or is it feti, Mollie, I never took latin). By saying that the debate is about when life begins, you’re framing the issue falsely. There’s no real debate about when life begins, the debate is about at what point we as a society give full human rights to life, and what forms of human life get those rights.

    You’re trying to frame the issue in a way that makes you the hands-down winner, since a fetus is so obviously alive. But that’s simply not good enough. You’re going to have to come up with some reasons to protect fetal life the same way we protect the lives of fully-functioning live-born adults. I think that’s what the Terry Schiavo debate was all about. Ms. Schiavo was unquestionably alive, but FL law did not treat her life as fully moral human life. There are arguments on many sides of this debate, and the sooner we start talking about the debate as it really is, the more useful our debate will be.

  • Mollie

    I was very surprised with Obama’s responses on the abortion issue.

    National Right to Life Committee takes issue with him here.

  • Greg DeVore

    dpulliam writes”I wonder how those “countries who don’t like us very much” feel about those comments” I wonder why you care? I suppose they think we are fools for giving them money even though they hate us.
    Jay Magoo talks about the religious test to the us constitution. I am curious since I have never met anyone who thinks we should ammend the constitution to include a religous test. Congress is prohibited from applying any religous test. Voters on the other hand can apply any test they want, religious or otherwise. The Constitution does not address the criteria by which voters can determine for whom they will vote.

  • Linda

    Steven Waldman at Beliefnet had some interesting articles about the debate and abortion:

    How Obama Won the Abortion Part of the Debate: Common Ground and Sacred Sex

    The Politics of Sacred Sex

  • Dave

    This is the first serious discussion about Roe v. Wade in these presidential debates. Why is this question only coming up now?

    Because this is the first time the moderator chose or framed a question that didn’t let them dodge it.

    Once again McCain changes the subject and Obama follows him down the rabbit hole. The question was about how they would include idealogy in their choice as president for Supreme Court nominees, which presidents have done at least since Reagan. McCain replied with a theory as to how he should behave as a senator in supporting or opposing confirmation of a nominee. Obama followed suit instead of changing the subject back to what he would do as president.

    They did the same in the first debate, with McCain changing the subject from economic woes in general to government spending in particular. It would have been to Obama’s advantage to chage the subject to unregulated Wall Street shenanigans, but he followed McCain down the rabbit hole.

    I hope President Obama gets some pointers on this before he has to sit down with foreign leaders for whom changing the subject is a cultural art.

  • Peggy

    The topics of the Surpreme Court and abortion were addressed much better by Rick Warren at Saddleback. The candidates’ answers were much clearer, and, recall, damning for Obama.

  • Daniel

    Peggy: I had forgot about the Warren forum. Odd how that seems like such a long time ago. I wonder how that forum would work out if it were this weekend instead of in August.

  • Linda

    Steven Waldman at Beliefnet has noticed McCain and Palin’s changing wording about abortion:

    Amidst Her Dodging, Palin Contradicts the Republican Platform on Abortion

    Wednesday October 1, 2008

    I’ve criticized Obama for talking about abortion reduction on the one hand and then airing ads, and taking policy position, that cut the other way. Now here’s question for you pro-life Republicans: Why are the Republican candidates so cagey about their actual views opposing abortion?

    Is McCain Shifting to the Center on Abortion?

    Tuesday September 16, 2008