Live Blogging of What Is Being Said at the Saddleback Civil Forum
Good evening everybody, Rachel and I are here in Harrisonburg, in the lovely Commonwealth of Virginia, where we have been watching the Saddleback Civil Forum.
Before we get to what is being said at Saddleback, let's spend a moment on why Virginia matters in this election. This is a place where voters from all parts of the state have heard day after day that their votes very well could be decisive come November. Here are just a few examples from this week alone:
On Monday, the week started off with a buzz in Northern Virginia about Kal Penn (the start from House, 24,and Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle), who is an Obama surrogate. He spoke at events in Alexandria, Centreville,
Fairfax City and Arlington, something which he has been doing across the nation ever since he signed on to volunteer by phonebanking in the dawning days of the campaign in Iowa. One point argued by Penn that was particularly illuminating is described in the following: "Penn said young American adults have already demonstrated that they can
have powerful effect on the financial market through multi-million
dollar social networks like MySpace and Facebook. It is time that the
younger generation uses that power in the voting booth, he said."
On Tuesday, NPR's morning edition described how "Among the states up for grabs in this year's presidential race is a surprise: Virginia. It
hasn't voted for a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. But in recent
years, Virginia has elected back-to-back Democratic governors and a
U.S. senator. And a Democrat is highly favored to win this year's
Senate race – all of which has the Barack Obama campaign thinking it
can turn the state from red to blue." http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=93449354&ft=1&f=1102
On Wednesday, the Obama Campaign announced that the keynote at next week's Democratic National Convention will be given by former Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who is also a current candidate for US Senate who is leading his opponent by a blowout margin. A former Clinton staffer stated at the time that "Mark Warner is the future of the Democratic Party, and putting him on
On Thursday, even Karl Rove singled out Virginia as one of the most decisive states in the upcoming election. Here is Rove's analysis: "The last time Virginia (13 electoral votes) went for a Democratic
presidential candidate was 1964. In 2004, the GOP's margin was eight
points. That makes Virginia an uphill climb for Mr. Obama, but not out
of reach. He's focused on increasing African-American voters in Hampton
Roads (in the southeastern corner of the state), Richmond and
Petersburg, and on deepening his strength in Northern Virginia, where
Fairfax was one of only 60 counties in America to flip from Republican
in '00 to Democrat in '04."
- On Friday, a McCain aide had this to say about the race,"Basically you are looking at an even race in Virginia," and that "Obviously, Senator Obama is putting an awful lot of money into
Virginia, both on the ground and on television, and it is a state that
has elected Democrats recently." Can you just imagine a Bush campaign aide saying these kinds of things about the Commonwealth of Virginia eight years ago, or even four years ago? It's an exciting time here, folks.
Tomorrow, the Washington Post is going to run an article about Tim Kaine's series of town halls across the commonwealth today. Here is a brief excerpt: "'America, after eight years of the Bush administration, is ready for
excellence,' Kaine said at a meeting in Leesburg, arguing that Sen. John McCain of Arizona, if elected, would be an extension of the current Republican
administration … Kaine said yesterday that if Obama can take the state, 'there is no
path for John McCain' to get enough electoral votes to win."
So, needless to say, Virginia is already a thrilling place to be this election season. I am indeed a proud Virginian, so I'm certainly biased, but I also think that there is no better place for Rachel and I to get together to watch tonight's discussion in Saddleback. Sure, it would have been nice to have made the trip to California. But honestly, I'd rather be here at a local bar in Harrisonburg, watching the debate and knowing that many of my neighbors from all around are doing the same — and taking a Democrat seriously when he talks about his faith in a forum like the one being broadcast tonight.
Since many folks will be clicking back and forth between CNN and the Olympics, we are going to do as much as we can to put together a paraphrased transcript of what is being said out in Southern California this evening. We should note, these are not direct quotes by any means (and even when words spoken by Senator Obama or Senator McCain are put in quotations, it does not mean that they are exact word-for-word transcripts), but they should give you a solid idea of what was said in every case. [ed. note: full transcripts are now available from Rick Warren's website for your reference]
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Barack Obama came on first, with the first five minutes or so focusing on "worldview questions" like "who are the wisest people you know," "what are some of the greatest mistakes you have made," and the like. We were still trying to get things loaded and will try and fill in the blanks for these first few minutes; but for now, let's start with the tougher questions that Reverend Warren had for Senator Obama, which began at about the ten minute mark or so. First, regarding abortion, Barack Obama stated that anybody who tires to deny the moral difficulties and the
gravity of the abortion issue is not paying attention. He then explained the following: "I am pro-choice and I come to that choice not because I’m
pro-abortion but ultimately because I do not think that women make these
decisions casually. This is where I think we can find common ground and I’ve now
inserted this into the Democratic Party platform: even though we have had a
president who is against abortion for the last eight years, abortions have not
gone down. One of the things I’ve always said is that, on this
particular issue, if you believe that life begins at conception, then I cannot
argue with you on that. What I can do is
say that there if there are ways to reduce the number of abortions, then we
need to address the reasons why women are seeking out abortions. How do we provide them with the right support
to make that choice: adoption, healthcare, etc."
The next question asked Senator Obama to define marriage. He responded by stating that "I believe that marriage is the union
between a man and a woman. For me as a
Christian, I believe that it is also a sacred dealing. God is in the mix." He received rousing applause for this response. When Reverend Warren asked him whether there should be a Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, Obama responded with this: "Historically, we have no defined marriage in our
constitution. The reason that people
think that some people believe that there should be a constitutional amendment
is that people think there should be a universal definition across all states." Obama then stated that this issue was best left up to the states and that "I believe in civil unions and I believe that my marriage is
strong enough that I can provide those civil rights to others and my marriage
is not threatened."
On the question of stem cells, Senator Obama stated that "It’s not like people are trying to say let’s go
destroy some embryos. They are saying
that we will protect life but that we will also find ways for science to help those with illnesses that could be aided through new technologies — no one in the mainstream of this policy discussion is focused on human cloning."
In one of the more interesting questions of the evening, Rick Warren asked whether evil exists. As Rachel is writing in her commentary at this very moment, this question led to one of the more interesting discrepancies of the night in terms of the two Senators' positions. McCain's position is very much like what President Bush has maintained: there is evil in the world, we can triumph over it, and so it is our place to seek it out and defeat it.
This tells us a lot about the theological underpinnings of Senator McCain's worldview, so pay special attention here to Senator Obama's reaction and how it is a much more humble position in the context of his interpretation of Scriptures: "I think we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil in the streets of our
cities. We see evil in parents who abuse
their children. We are not, as
individuals, not going to be able to erase evil. That is God’s task. We can be soldiers in that process and we can
have a role in that regard. We have to have humility because just if our intentions are
good it doesn’t mean that we are going to do it right all the time. That’s what God is for."
Rick Warren then asked about the Supreme Court and what Senator Obama's position was on the way that the Judicial Branch had been operating in recent years. Obama responded by stating that "One of the most important jobs of the Supreme Court is to
hold up against the other branches. This
Court has given too much power to this
president and has been too ready to go along with the President's plans rather than serving its rightful place in the system of checks and balances that our Founders intended."
On faith-based organizations, Rick Warren cited that "80 percent of the American public think that faith-based organizations can be more effective than the
US government." Obama responded to Warren by saying that "First of all, I gave a speech earlier this summer promoting
faith-based initiatives. I think we
should have an all hands on deck approach.
As someone who got his start as a community organizer working with
churches, I know the power of faith-based groups. They are always free to hire whomever they
want when it comes to their mission. But
we have to make sure they are not discriminating who they are employing when it comes to the federal
money they are receiving — and that in most cases this is never a problem because they keep those kinds of operations separated."
Rick Warren followed up on this by stating that "In Katrina, if I wanted to hire some people to
do relief, I wouldn’t be able to hire someone who just believes what I do under the system as it stands." Obama reiterated that "Faith-based organizations should not be able to
discriminate, but that is only in regard to the narrow program that they are
doing when they receive federal money for that specific initiative."
Warren next prompted Obama to to respond to the fact that the US was nineteenth in high school graduations, but first in
incarcerations. Obama replied by stating that "I think that we should setup a system in which teachers are treated like the professionals they are. Teachers are underpaid and I think we should change that
system by rewarding excellence — but not based on a single standard like test scores like in No Child Left Behind but through more meaningful metrics."
In one of the more memorable moments of the night, Rick Warren asked Barack Obama to "Define what being rich is." Obama's reply was "When you have book sales of 25 million [copies]…" He then explained his point of view by stating that "Here is how I think about it: if you are making $150,000 or
less as a family, you are middle class or poor.
If you are in the top 3-4 percent of this country, then you are doing
well. If we believe in good schools, good roads, going to college,
and we do not want to leave a mound of debt for the next generation, then we have got
to pay for these things. They don’t come
for free. I believe it is irresponsible to the next generation for us to spend $10b a month for a war that I did not think was wise from the very beginning." He elaborated by saying that his aim was not to tax the rich excessively, but rather that "What I am trying to do is create a sense of balance and
Rick Warren asked Obama, "As an American, what is worth dying for? What is worth sacrificing?" Obama responded by citing America’s
freedom and her national interests; but then he also explained his position further by saying that "We did not have UN approval in Bosnia, but there was a strong
international case that has been made."
The next question was about the issue of orphans, which Obama answered by saying that "we
should look at intergovernmental organizations, international institutions, and the like to create a better system for dealing with this global problem." Obama joked that he had cheated by looking at Reverend Warren's own program and that he thought it was a reasonable one. A similar question about global concerns was then asked about AIDS funding and Obama cited President Bush's PEPFAR (President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief) program and saying that even if he disagreed with much of what Bush has done, PEPFAR is a true humanitarian achievement that would be supported under an Obama Administration.
Rick Warren continued with the discussion of global responsibility by talking about how there is religious persecution around the world. Obama responded by saying that the goal is "not to pretend that religious persecution is not taking place. None of us want to see military intervention in China if we do not need to do so. But we need to bear testament to the basic rights that we believe in as Americans through more meaningful ways than just brute force." Next, Warren asked about the 27 million people living in slavery across the world; and Obama declared the importance of "better, more effective tools for prosecuting those involved
in human trafficking. We have to give prosecutors the tools to deal with human
trafficking. It is a debasement of our
Warren's final three questions were big ones. First, Warren asked Obama why he was running for president. Obama responded by telling a story about the lessons taught to him by his mother. "She would always say to imagine standing in their shoes," he said. "The way that works is that, in America, if we see somebody down and
out and we see a kid who can’t afford college, we care for them too. I want to be President because that dream is
slipping away. We keep putting it off. We keep not dealing with it. And I have the ability to build bridges across partisan lines and to bring America back to where it should be — where we, as a nation, are truly great."
Then, Warren's second to last question to Barack Obama was: "What do you say to people who oppose me asking you these
questions?" Obama's eloquent response was as follows: "These are the forums that we need so that we can have these
discussions. If you are a person of
faith like me, then you believe that things will work out. Discussions like these make it so that people have good information, good dialogue,
and are not just consuming negative ads. If
people know where we stand, I trust in the American people to think about their options and to make the right decisions."
Finally, Warren asked, "What would you tell the American people if you knew there
wouldn’t be any repercussions?" Obama responded by citing the fact that this nation has so many big problems to face, particularly issues like energy, which are not going to have easy solutions. Transitioning to a more energy
efficient economy is going to take everyone; and Obama closed his time at Saddleback by calling on a greater devotion to our common good in order to find the solutions to tough problems like our current energy situation.