Religion in Palin-Biden debate

biden-palin debateTonight’s debate may be one of the most anticipated of the year. Somehow I sense there will be a let-down in terms of theatrics since that’s probably what both sides are seeking. However, what we will be looking for this evening will be religious questions and answers.

Needless to say, last week’s debate between Presidential candidates Barack Obama, the Democrat, and John McCain, the Republican, was a bit of a let-down in terms of religious talk. Whether or not this evening’s debate will also be a let down is yet to be seen.

To set the scene in terms of religion, neither candidate has said much about religion during the campaign. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., has used a lot of Catholic social doctrine language in his stump speeches since being selected Vice President, while Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been surprisingly and unfortunately quiet on the subject (also quiet in general).

In terms of issues that have varying degrees of religious tilt, it will be interesting to see what the candidates have to say on the subject of greed, torture, abortion, Supreme Court nominees, teaching evolution in public schools, sex education, the church-state divide, and many others (feel free to add to this list in the comments). While it is the “official position” that a candidate holds that maters most, any of these issues could be informed by a candidate’s personal faith and it is important for voters to understand the source of those views.

With that, check back at this post later tonight for updates on how religion plays a role in this evening’s debate. Enjoy.

9:03 PM: “Can I call you Joe?” asks Palin at the shaking of hands. My wife says that Sen. Joe will still call her Gov. Palin.

9:10 PM: Palin talks about the sin of greed and corruption on Wall Street.

9:10 PM: Palin calls on Americans to not live outside their means.

9:11 PM: Biden on the same question as Palin’s question above talks about regulation, deregulation, free markets, banking industry, debt, middle class tax relief, but nothing on the sin of greed.

9:13 PM: Biden accuses Palin of misconstruing Obama’s record.

9:14 PM: Palin comes right back at Biden and says she’s talking “straight to the American people.”

9:15: PM Biden talks about “simple fairness” and how the middle class is struggling. Is there a sense of basic morality behind Biden’s call for “simple fairness.” To have a concept of “simple fairness” (he just said it again), there must be a baseline by which one can measure “simple fairness”

9:17 PM: Biden talks about in the same sentence as above about values and how one’s principles on taxes is informed by their sense of values.

9:17 PM: Palin comes back at Biden about how more taxes are not patriotic. She doesn’t say anything about values. It’s all about basic economics for her.

9:20 PM: We’re onto the issue of health care. Health care used to be administered generally by religious organizations like churches. A lot of Indianapolis’s best health care providers were started by churches. The hospital my father and I were both born in was started by a church that barely exists today. Now we’re talking about employers, insurance companies and tax credits.

9:21 PM: The candidates are asked what promises they won’t be able to keep once elected. Good question!

9:22 PM: Biden says they won’t slow up spending on education. (Oh and who’s stumbling over his words now?)

9:23 PM: Palin tells us that John McCain doesn’t tell one thing to one group and another thing to another group. In other words, he’s a truth teller.

9:24 PM: Palin says there’s nothing she has promised that she would be willing to take off the table. Same for McCain.

9:30 PM: Climate change has a religious element. Will anyone mention it and the Biblical call to care for the Earth?

9:36 PM: Same-sex benefits. Biden says absolutely positively.

9:36 PM: Biden says that same sex couples should have the same constitutional and legal rights as heterosexual couples. He’s just endorsed same-sex marriage under the United States Constitution.

9:37 PM: Palin doesn’t want to re-define the traditional definition of marriage. However, Palin is at the same time a tolerant person and is tolerant toward people deciding these things for themselves. Just look at her family, she says. “Within that tolerance….” no one within the McCain-Palin administration would ever consider prohibiting hospital visits. Last time I checked, the White House doesn’t decide hospital visit policies.

However, Palin doesn’t support defining marriage as anything but one man and one woman. That’s some of an inconsistent answer. If you want to treat the couples the same, you have to call it marriage.

9:38 PM: From a civil side, Obama and Biden don’t support re-defining marriage. That’s inconsistent with his first answer above from a legal perspective. As I noted above, if you want to treat the couples the same, you have to call it marriage. To have the same rights as a male-female relationships, homosexual relationships would have to be defined as a marriage.

9:42 PM: In summary, Palin and Biden both managed to contradict themselves in their answer on their refusal to endorse gay marriage, but to somehow support the rights and interests of gay couples. Go figure.

9:45: Nuclear weapons, the Middle East, danger, policy on terror instability, the War on Terror, Iraq. Somehow a religion issue will get mentioned here.

CNN already is publishing a transcript of the debate here. (HT Sarah)

9:48 PM: Palin says nukes in the hands of the Iranians would be very bad. As usual, the portrayal of the police system in Iran is botched and misconstrued.

9:49 PM: Iran hates America’s tolerance, woman’s rights, and we cannot be friends with them, says Palin. Talking to Iran would take a lot of work.

9:50 PM: Biden is my hero. He clarifies that the president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doesn’t really control the country’s foreign policy. It’s the religious leaders. He’s right.

9:51 PM: Palin says a two-state solution is the solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palin says Israel is our best alley in the Middle East.

9:56 PM: Use of nuclear weapons is used as a deterrent, says Palin. Only the United States is allowed to have them and all of the countries who don’t like us can’t have them, Palin says. Nuclear weapons have a rather significant moral issue behind them (as do all weapons that kill lots of people to a lesser extent).

10:01 PM: Biden says regarding putting troops on the ground in Darfur that he still supports the idea. Compares the situation to Bosnia and Kosovo.

10:02 PM: “I don’t have the stomach for genocide in Darfur,” says Biden.

10:05 PM: Palin says that we should do all that we can to “end those atrocities” in the Darfur region, says Palin.

10:09 PM: Palin likes to wink on occasion at the camera. She’s done it several times this evening. There’s a Bible verse on winking with one’s eyes.

10:15 PM: I think I missed something earlier regarding Palin’s comment on Biden’s wife’s reward for teaching being in heaven. Waiting for transcript….

10:19 PM: Palin says the United States is like a shining city on a hill like President Reagan said once. I’m pretty sure that idea came before Reagan. More on this later.

10:22 PM: Biden seems to choke up a bit talking about the challenges he faced during his family’s car accident tragedy in 1972 when his wife and baby daughter died. Biden says he knows what it is like to be a single parent.

9:25 PM: Biden says that he changed on his judicial philosophy. He is proud of his opposition to Robert Bork’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

9:30 PM: Palin wraps up with words of “Thank God” and “blessed.”

9:32 PM: Biden wraps up with little religious language other than “May God bless all of you, and most of all for both of us, selfishly, may God protect our troops.”

And that’s a wrap folks.

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  • FW Ken

    Gov. Palin seems to be a pretty concrete thinker, probably more of a pragmatic problem-solver (effective) than a philosophical “big-picture” sort of person.

    Wow! Sen. Biden KNOWS climate change is man-made. Amazing!

  • SouthCoast

    ‘There’s a Bible verse on winking with one’s eyes. ”

    Is there another body part with which it would be preferred one winked?

  • Dave G.

    I was surprised at how few of those hot button religious/moral issues were discussed. I didn’t see it all (missed about 15 minutes of it total), but there were far less mentioned than I would have thought. The only one I caught was the question about gay marriage.

    FWIW, I suppose Palin did OK, if not actually won. Tom Brokaw finished his appraisal by emphasizing that this is not relevant in the over all scheme of things, that what really matters are the next two presidential debates. Why do I have a feeling if she had bombed, that wouldn’t have been the assessment?

  • Greg DeVore

    dpulliam writes”9:17 PM: Palin comes back at Biden about how more taxes are not patriotic. She doesn’t say anything about values. It’s all about basic economics for her.”
    I find this a very odd statement. Are you implying that patriotism is not a value?

  • Jerry

    I’ll be thrilled once the election season is over when hopefully what seems to me obsessive coverage here of Palin ends.

  • Dave

    It’s perfectly consistent to support equal treatment of gay and straight couples without endorsing gay marriage. That’s why they have civil unions in Vermont.

    Palin was careful, somewhere in that discussion, to deny that she intended to push her faith values off on others. Something like that, anyway. I think that covers the question of teaching creationism, but may have been inconsistent with the GOP platform plank on abortion.

    For someone who chided Biden not to dwell on the past (ie, the dismal record of the current Republican administration) Palin had a lot of facts (or faux-facts) at her fingertips about past voting records.

    Biden gave just the right answer to what his job would be as VP. He said Obama wanted him in the room to give frank opinions about things. That says he will give Obama CYA on foreign policy without saying, “I will give him CYA on foreign policy.”

    Palin was not as good as her GOP convention speech but better than her interviews. The wheels did not fall off the Republican campaign, which some Republicans reportedly feared and some Democrats must have hoped.

  • Dave2

    What strikes me as odd about this post is the assimilation of any moral question to the realm of religion. When Biden talks about “simple fairness”, I confess it takes a lot of thinking before I can get anything religious out of it.

    And to think, just three weeks ago, we all agreed that the ‘human rights and abortion’ question dodged by Obama was an ethical question and not a theological question.

  • tmatt


    When people stop making journalistic mistakes in the coverage of the religion facts and language linked to Palin, we’ll stop writing about ‘em. Deal?

  • Shaun G

    Daniel — you write, “If you want to treat the couples the same, you have to call it marriage.”

    That’s not the sort of statement one should put out there as matter-of-fact without anything to back it up.

    If I want women to be treated the same as men, do I have to call them “sir”?

  • AJ

    “…Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., has used a lot of Catholic social doctrine….” As a Catholic I can say, only the parts he likes, many Catholics, of Mr. Biden’s philosphical bent, just can’t let go of their support for abortion, oh yeah I forgot, I should have said choice. That sounds better now, doesn’t it? As an aside when the current Roman Catholic Bishop of Wilmington, DE was questionned about Mr. Biden’s continued support for abortion rights he blathered on about Jesus being a teacher and we need to teach. Hey Bishop, Jesus also said “Go and sin no more.” But, I digress.

    Sarah Palin did tell Joe Biden his wife had a place in heaven because of Mrs. Biden’s 30 years of teaching.. If she would have gone beyond that the media would have painted her as jump down, turn around, fire breathing charasmatic fundamenalist christian. To her credit she has smartly refused to be baited on her religious beliefs. To Joe Biden’s credit, he toned down his usual pointy fingered preaching, and came off quite well in my book. Let it be known, I am not a Joe Biden fan. I think the moniker given him by the Rev. Les Kingsolving, “Holy Joe,” fits. But he came off quite amiable and likeable last evening. This said, I wish he would stop witht the “as a guy from Scanton, Wilmington, Claymont” stuff. He only lived in Scranton until age 10 and had a fairly nice middle class upbringing. He now lives north of Wilmington, DE in what is known as “Chateau Country” think DuPont family mansions. As a peon I know the area well, I do a lot of photography in about that part of our country. Finally, Sarah Palin was winking at me, I am sure of it.

  • Martha

    “If you want to treat the couples the same, you have to call it marriage.”

    In the context of hospital visits? I have no idea, but how about co-habiting couples who are not married? Do American hospitals require a marriage certificate before they’ll let you in as next-of-kin?

    There is a distance between giving certain legal rights to same-sex couples and redefining marriage. I think that’s what both sides were trying to get at (in a very clumsy manner, going by this account). There is definitely an argument that can be made about civil unions and the like; however, I’d like to see if either candidate is happy to leave it up to the vote in each state, or instead to the courts to make the change in the law, and if not, why not?

  • dpulliam

    I don’t have much time to address this now in detail, but simply put, if you don’t call a relationship there’s no guarantee that the relationship (whether you call it a civil union, or a life relationship) will be treated the same as marriage. And it’s SO much more than just hospital visits. There are implications in criminal law, property law, trusts and estates, contracts, business law, domestic relations law and so much more.

    So in summary, to give a relationship the same legal status under the Constitution as marriage, as Sen. Biden says he wants to do, you’d have to call it marriage in order to sincerely say from a legal perspective that the relationship is the same.

  • HiScrivener

    Brilliant. This will be linked on the Wall. Nicely done, D.

  • Harris

    Palin came across as much more the effective Republican spokesperson, albeit one with some cornpone artificiality. Heckuva job, really. She did not come across particularly as a social conservative, or perhaps I am simply deaf to the dog whistle aspects. At the very lest, the same-sex discussion suggests a banking of the fire on cultural war themes

  • Karen Vaughan

    I think it was a draw, if you grade on a curve or went to Biden if you grade on content. Biden was clearly more informed while Palin sounded like a gushing hero-worshiper, albeit one with steel ambition inside. I found her refusal to answer questions to be patently transparent, and when asked to name her Achilles heel, she couldn’t or wouldn’t- only talked about her assets. (That is a religious ghost.) To be fair, Biden followed suit and Gwen Iffel didn’t press the issue.

    The expectations for Palin were so low that she didn’t have to do much more than to be competent to come across. And she is effectively folksy and likable. But how do we judge these things anyway? I didn’t hear anything that sounded like she has the knowledge and experience to run the country if McCain’s cancer wins out, but commentators all call it a draw or a win.

  • FW Ken

    Since comments on the debate itself seem fair game, I’ll opine that Biden whipped her posterior portion. Not that he was great: his hero worship of Obama was real close to her gushing about McCain. But that’s their job as VP candidates, so no harm no foul. Also, they obviously had some genuine warmth and kindness going, probably due to the commonality of sons in Iraq.

    Both, at different times, dodged a substantial response in favor of the party line or campaign talking points but she did it more. I think he’s more knowledgable about the sorts of things people (particularly the media) expect to hear in these events. That is not to say that he would be a better VP or POTUS.

    Following up on my own #1 above, she is not an abstract thinker (in Myers-Briggs terms, I would make her an SJ – ESTJ, to be complete), meaning she looks at discrete facts rather than larger patterns. I’m betting most national level politicians – and journalists – look at patterns. She might, in fact, be a very effective problem solver, though I question whether she can manage the larger systemic issues that face a president. Perhaps the best comment last night was that she would probably make a good Secretary of the Interior.

  • young church going guy

    My preacher has most of my congregation in a trance. He tells them who is right and who is wrong on nearly every topic. I for one like to pray and get the answers from the spirit the best I can. I grew up Republican but I refuse to vote for someone because thats what I’m supposed too. The spirit is guiding me to vote for Obama- He is a kind, gentle person who is doing the best he can with what we have to work with nowadays. The economy is on most everyones mind but my heart says the bloodshed that we are creating is a sin and so is the killing of innocent children and families- No matter what religion they represent.
    That is the most important topic ( where is the peace that christ told us to live our lives in?)Where is the love-compassion !The church is being led astray by an angry,revengeful blind spirit who has taken control of our government and the minds and hearts of the people. We have become the devils advocate in the name of Christianity….It’s insanity to put money before even one innocent life. We have decimated an entire country who wasn’t even involved in 911 and now we have moved on to Afghanistan then where ? Iran. Christ said if someone strikes you turn the cheek and forgive as he has forgiven us. Not invade a country to get at one dictator and kill thousands of innocent people. Their are over 50,000 orphans in Irag because of our invasion.Does this even matter to you people!!!!!!!!Thats what is important…….Most of the people in my church are sunday zombies who think asking for forgiveness every week is always gonna make up for not using their brains. People are suffering and spending their lives in hell because of’s that simple. Peace is the plan and Obama is looking for peace. Its pretty obvious who is truly being led by the spirit. I never thought I would say the church is lost but It’s quite obvious to those who still seek to pattern our lives after the holy spirit. Love comes first.

  • Jerry


    When people stop making journalistic mistakes in the coverage of the religion facts and language linked to Palin, we’ll stop writing about ‘em. Deal?

    But my point is that there is so much else wrong with the level of reporting today so choosing to focus on how badly Palin is being covered causes you to miss all the other bad examples that could be mentioned.

    But there are also examples of good coverage as well – weren’t there recent awards for good religion coverage that you could have covered?

    To a point, Palin is a lightning rod for a certain kind of bad coverage so exploring that was well warranted. But after a while, the stories start reading to me like “here’s yet another example” and that’s where I started feeling like you were over-commenting on the basic story.

  • Cathy Walser

    Great post, but Biden’s wife and daughter were killed in 1972, not 1992 (Christianity Today has it wrong too).

  • Rev. Michael Church

    One other, minor, religious note: Palin made a reference to “Shi’ia extremists in Iraq.” Given that other politicians have fumbled on the sectarian who’s-who of the Middle East, this had surely been covered in her pre-debate prep. She worked it in appropriately, and accurately — since the “Awakening,” the Sunni militias seem to have calmed down, at least for now.

    But I would have liked questions that explored the candidates’ understanding of the relationship between religious affiliation and political violence in the Middle East. This stuff, which may seem like trivia to many people, is important for the next President and his strategic advisors to understand. For example, reducing “the enemy in Iraq” to Shi’ias ignores the fact that al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is a Sunni organization.

  • Dave

    I would have liked questions that explored the candidates’ understanding of the relationship between religious affiliation and political violence in the Middle East.

    Rev Church, that kind of question would have thrown the debate to Biden and re-awakened the question of Ifill’s neutrality. That’s the sort of thing Presidents get briefed about by experts; they don’t have to be experts themselves. The fact that Biden is such an expert would be a plus in an administration but that’s no excuse for biasing the debate questions in his favor.

  • Rev. Michael Church

    I disagree on all points, Dave. I’m not proposing anything that would bias the debate in either candidate’s favor; I’m proposing that questions explore the candidates’ knowledge of religion in public affairs.

    Of course, a president should be briefed on almost every factual question by experts, from economics to the environment. But Ifill asked about those areas anyway, as well she should have, because they matter. I’m suggesting that religion matters too, in this case because it is a significant motivating force both for our nation’s enemies and its allies.

    The alternative philosophy — and it is possible that this is what you believe, but you’ll have to tell me — is that debate questions should not be designed to explore knowledge at all, but only principles and convictions. That’s an interesting opinion, but not mine.

    And by the way, although Biden certainly knows something about foreign affairs, I’m not sure that he has any expertise on the role religion plays in them, which is very complicated. As I said, other political leaders with security expertise have had trouble answering even basic questions about this stuff. And as I also said, Palin is the only one who brought it up. For all we know, she may have a far deeper understanding of the matter than he does.

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  • FW Ken

    re-awakened the question of Ifill’s neutrality

    Which reminds me: I thought she did an excellent job, truly fair and impartial. Has anyone said differently?

  • movie fan

    the VP debate was stunning. Palin did a decent job faking about 20% of the questions and didn’t even bother answering the other 80%.

    i couldn’t help thinking of the end of the movie Billy Madison, when the debate moderator says to Adam Sandler, “Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

  • Grupetti

    FW Ken says (regarding Ifill):

    I thought she did an excellent job, truly fair and impartial. Has anyone said differently?

    Virtually the entire Right-Wing blogosphere. Start with Instapundit. Turns out she hasn’t even written the chapter on Obama.

  • Dave

    Rev Church (#22), you’re reading way too much into my comment. I mean that the particular kind of background that you were suggesting be the basis of a question is not only too arcane for the audience or the debaters, but for a sitting president.

  • FW Ken

    Grupetti –

    Obviously, I need to get out more, but I’ll stand by my comment that Iffel did a decent job of fairness. It’s unfortunate that she had the appearance of a conflict of interest, but I didn’t see that it played out.

    And this from a man who hasn’t forgiven CBS News for Dan Rather’s gameplaying in 2004, or ABC WorldNews Tonight for The Interview recently. I’m pretty cynical journalistic bias.

  • Dave

    Something the MSM seems to have missed is the new gender standard for politicians showing emotion. Palin referred to her special-needs child with dry eyes and a stiff upper lip. Biden choked up in recounting his family tribulations. Apparently it is now OK for a man to show emotion but a woman has to be too tough for that. And this only 24 years since Muskie fell out of contention for shedding tears in public after his wife was slandered in print.