I happened to be watching "Larry King Live" when Rick Warren made his apparently controversial statements about not working very hard for California's Proposition 8 opposing gay marriage (one of the rare times I was watching the old dude,) for which he was roundly criticized by the right and the left. I have to admit to seeing Warren's conundrum. He's trying to promote a new kind of evangelical-ism: less scary and right wing sounding, more inclusive seeming, more Book of Matthew ("blessed are the meek and all that...) and less Book of Revelation (wait till your Jesus gets home...!) At the same time, while the marketing is changing, the core beliefs have not. Even most of the "new age" evangelicals I know are diametrically opposed to gay marriage, and truly believe homosexuality to be a sin. So what's a Book of Matthew Christian to do? That, by the way, is also the conundrum faced by most Black Christians... And remember Warren trying to sound like a friend of both Barack Obama and John McCain, right before he fed McCain the debate answers and went on Fox News to declare himself a conservative Republican? Conundrums...
Warren bailing on Stephanopoulos today (exhaustion? Try freaking out-stion...) was frankly, not surprising. He probably needs to get his story straight within his own head and movement before he goes out in public trips himself up again.
On second thought ... Joe Lowry's not for gay marriage either
Don't call it a flip-flop, apparently the MSM got this one wrong. I also erred, reporting in this post, that unlike Pastor Rick Warren, the Rev. Joe Lowry, who will give the benediction at Barack Obama's swearing in, is a supporter of gay marriage. Well color me corrected. On MSNBC's "1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," Rev. Lowry went to great pains to disabuse David Shuster of the notion that he supports gay marriage. "I'm for civil unions," said Lowry, but he said his religious convictions would cause him to eschew the "marriage" thing. Watch:
When you talk about the law discriminating, the law granting a privilege here, and a right here and denying it there, that's a civil rights issue. And I can't take that away from anybody.
That statement is interesting, in that nowhere in it, does Lowry state that he favors gay marriage. I think perhaps the media, in this case USA Today's Faith and Reason blog, and ABC, were looking for ideological bookends where none existed. I fault myself for not being more skeptical. As someone who grew up Methodist myself, and knowing the religion to posess the mildest of manners, and a long tradition of tolerance, I can tell you that despite that, Methodists read Leviticus in exactly the same manner as other Christians...
By the way, did Rachel Maddow jump the shark tonight with her big build-up to a supposed "gotcha" on Rick Warren over this 20-minute self-defense video on the Saddleback Church website? Maddow portrayed the extemporaneous video as damning, in the Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club sense, but the clips she played were, charitably, run of the mill. No bombshells. Nothing incendiary. And if the clips she played represented the "worst" of Warren's "screed," as Maddow called it, then it's a sleepy screed indeed. I'm starting to remember why I didn't enjoy Rachel's radio show when it was on down here. Sometimes, activist journalism can be interesting. Other times, not so much.
As the niche controversy over President-Elect Barack Obama's choice of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at his swearing in continues to fester, it strikes me that we may have another Elian Gonzales-style saga in the making.
Elian, you may recall, was the adorable 6-year-old boy who washed ashore in Miami during the Thanksgiving of 1999, after losing his mother in a deadly attempt to "float to freedom" from Cuba. Elian quickly became the center of an international custody battle between his father, who wanted to return him to the island nation, and his Miami relatives -- people he had never met before finding himself in their care -- who wanted him to remain in the United States, with them. In the course of several months, Miami's Cuban-American community erupted, surrounding the Miami relatives' house with protests and "human chains," their leaders daring the Clinton Justice Department to come and get him, making a spectacle of the bewildered little boy as he played with new toys and politician-issued puppies in full view of the crowds and cameras, causing a weary nation to scratch its collective head and ask, who are these people, and why won't they just let the boy go home?
Of course, at the heart of the Elian drama were real and deeply felt issues of communism versus freedom, the wrenching pain many Cuban-Americans continue to feel regarding their homeland, and international politics that most Americans find either too compliated, or too tedious, to contemplate. But those issues were subsumed by the high drama, and a seeming obsessiveness among a single, niche constituent group that most other Americans simply could not relate to.
Eventually, Elian went home. But the Cuban-American community had lost more than the boy. In fighting so loudly and so lavishly for him to remain, they lost credibility with the wider public.
The gay and lesbian community is facing its Elian moment. By screaming so loudly about Warren's inclusion in the inauguration, and making gay marriage a kind of litmus test for true progressiveness and humanity, they have embraced a fight that only a small sliver of the population can relate to, and put their credibility on the line by painting Barack Obama as an enemy, at a time when most Americans consider him their only hope.
The "Elianization" of the gay marriage issue is made worse by the fact that some of the arguments being made against Warren simply don't hold up. Examples:
Rick Warren is a fringe preacher not fit to occupy a place of such high honor on January 20th. Really? Warren's breakthough book, "The Purpose Driven Life," which TIME Magazine in 2005 called the best-selling paperback in history, has sold something like 56 million copies since its release in 2002. That's just 10 million fewer readers than Barack Obama had voters, and roughly 2 million fewer people than voted for John McCain. Far from a fringe player, Warren might be the most widely known and best-liked religious figure in the U.S. since Billy Graham. His 22,000 member church boasts a global network of 40,000 other churches, united in advancing an agenda focused not on opposing gay rights, but rather on fighting global poverty, AIDS and climate change. Warren may be a lot of things, but "fringe" is not one of them.
Warren's views on gays are out of the mainstream. Perhaps Rachel Maddow, the inimitable Barney Frank and those at the left-most end of the poitical spectrum wish it were so, but it is not (actually, Frank recognized as much when he criticized San Franciso Mayor Gavin Newsome for pushing the envelope on gay marriage in 2004.) Warren does not support the idea of gay marriage. Neither do a majority of Americans. Neither, by the way, does Barack Obama. Or Hillary Clinton. Or Joe Biden. Or any Democrat who ran for president this year with the exception of Dennis Kucinich. But most Americans do support equal access to such things as healthcare benefits through civil unions or domestic partnerships, a view with which Warren, despite the hype over his "incest" comments, concurs, as he stated during his recent, but rarely fully quoted, interivew with Beliefnet:
Q: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family - divorce or gay marriage? A: [laughs] That's a no brainer. Divorce. There's no doubt about it. Q: So why do we hear so much more - especially from religious conservatives - about gay marriage than about divorce? A: Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? [Note: Warren is quite overweight.] Q: Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships? A: I don't know if I'd use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights. Q: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation? A: You know, not a problem with me.
(Hat tip to Bob Ostertag.) By painting Warren's views as out of touch with those of most, or worse, of the "good" Americans, the gay movement risks marginalizing itself, not Warren, since most people agree with him. In fact, it would be difficult to find a mainline preacher in this country who didn't concur with his reading of the Bible's stance toward homosexuality or marriage, but Warren is unique among evangelical leaders in being openly supportive of equality via civil unions. Moreover, had Obama reached for a "fringier" minister, one who openly supported gay marriage, to give his invocation, he would have touched off yet another round of the tiresome culture war, and given himself needless hurdles to getting crucial things done. In fact, there are only two reasons Obama has NOT been attacked for having a preacher who supports gay marriage on the dais on January 20. One is that Rev. Joe Lowry is no ordinary preacher -- he is a dean of the Civil Rights Movement, and is expected to speak from the perspective of Dr. Martin Luther King. The other is that the hew and cry over Rich Warren has sucked up all the oxygen.
And then there is the final meme, which might be the most marginalizing of all:
Barack Obama has betrayed his base. Barack Obama was elected by 66,882,230 Americans, a figure that includes a majority of the roughly 6 million Americans who are either gay, lesbian, transgendered or bisexual. But it also includes strong majorities of the much larger cohorts of African-Amerians, Latinos, Catholics, women, and young voters, some of whom support gay marriage, most of whom do not. Obama's "base" this year included 9 percent of registered Republicans, and 20 percent of self-described conservatives. Anyone want to place a bet on whether they feel betrayed by Warren's inclusion? As Obama has said repeatedly, his base is the American people. Attempting to pigeon hole him into a base that consists entirely of those on the left, is suspiciously like the right's expectation (which unfortunately was met) that George W. Bush would govern only on behalf of evangelical Christians, wealthy individuals and multinational corporations.
It seems to me that many on the left actually bought, lock, stock and barrel, into the cartoon caricature of Barack Obama peddled by the likes of Fox News and right wing talk radio throughout the campaign, when he was painted as some wild-eyed leftie. Well surprise! He is not, nor has he ever been. The left will be very happy with the Obama agenda, which, since its aim is to save this country from the three-fold blight of economic ruin, needless war and a loss of global credibility, should make the center and the right happy, too.
The reality is that Barack Obama is coming into office with a tremendous weight on his shoulders, and gay marriage simply cannot be at the top of his agenda (the aforementioned economy and wars come first.) And he has decided to govern as he ran: as a man determined to bring Americans together, exclude no one from the conversation, and to declare no group to be "untouchable" -- not even evangelical Christians, of whom he, you wil recall, is one.
Obama is being true to that promise by inviting Warren, and the millions of people he reaches, to be a part of the inaugural. By bringing them into the tent, he is not saying that he subscribes to all of the Christian right's beliefs. But he is signaling that there is room for believers in the tent. Does the LGBT community really want to be the ones standing at the door saying they may not come in? If they do, they will find that it's a lot more crowded outside.
I've been struggling with writing an op-ed on the whole dust-up over Barack Obama inviting Pastor Rick Warren (the proverbial "chicken soup" for the soul-filled) to do the invocation at his swearing in. The trick: how to write that the gay (sorry, "GLBT") community has completely lost the plot, without incurring a torrent of emails calling me a fake progressive bigot (apparently, Obama is one of those bigots now.)
You see, what the Rachel Maddow/Keith Olbermann crowd has conveniently forgotten -- apparently having bought into the cartoon character version of Barack Obama sold to them by Fox News Channel, is that Barack Obama is now, and has been for a very long time, an evangelical Christian -- just like Rick Warren. As such, he, like Warren, opposes extending the term "marriage" to apply to gay or lesbian couples. Like many religious progressives, Obama supports equal rights -- namely, civil unions or domestic partnerships (which, by the way, also help straight, unmarried couples deal with such issues as health insurance and inheritance.) But he is not now, nor has he ever been, a proponent of gay marriage. By the way, neither is Hillary Clinton. Or Joe Biden. Or any Democrat who ran for president this year with the exception of Dennic Kucinich.
Apparently, the gay community missed the memo. And now they are shocked. SHOCKED! to discover that they can no longer support Obama because he does not support gay marriage. Well, okay. And apparently, the gay community has also discovered that black people are the enemy, because they, being a largely religious sort of people, also agree with the "purpose driven" preacher. Hm. Well count Latinos, Catholics, Methodists, Presbytarians, Asians and ... well... most everybody. The majority of Americans of all races, creeds and religions feel exactly the way Warren does about gay marriage. In fact, being pro gay marriage is a distinctly minority view. If you were to ban everyone who opposes gay marriage from the Inaugural, there would be nobody but Barney Frank and the aforementioned Mr. Kucinich on the National Mall. Even Obama wouldn't be able to show up.
Which brings me to a terrific post at the HuffPo by a guy named Bob Ostertag, a pretty out there gay man it seems, who makes a few really good points in this terrific post, which I could not have made better, since I lack his cultural perspective. And here are a few of them...
Brilliant point 1: is this any way to build a political coalition that's anything but marginal?
How is it that queers became the odd ones out at such a momentous turning point in history? By pushing an agenda of stupid issues like gay marriage.
"Gay marriage" turns the real issues of equal rights for sexual minorities upside down and paints us into a reactionary little corner of our own making. Yes, married people get special privileges denied to others. Denied not to just gays and lesbians, but to all others. Millions of straight people remain unmarried, and for a huge variety of reasons, from mothers whose support networks do not include their children's fathers, to hipsters who can't relate to religious institutions. We could be making common cause with them. We could be fighting for equal rights for everyone, not just gays and lesbians, but for all unmarried people. In the process we would leave religious institutions to define marriage however their members see fit.
That's how you win at politics, isn't it? You build principled coalitions that add up to a majority, and try not to hand potent mobilizing issues to your opposition in the process.
Brilliant point #2:is gay marriage really the most important issue on the table for gay people? Really?
Through years of queer demonstrations, meetings, readings and dinner table conversations, about gay bashing, police violence, job discrimination, housing discrimination, health care discrimination, immigration discrimination, family ostracism, teen suicide, AIDS profiteering, sodomy laws, and much more, I never once heard anyone identify the fact that they couldn't get married as being a major concern. And then, out of the blue, gay marriage suddenly became the litmus test by which we measure our allies. We have now come to the point that many unthinkingly equate opposition to gay marriage with homophobia.
Rick Warren is now the flash point, the one all our political allies, even Barack Obama, are supposed to denounce because he doesn't pass gay marriage the litmus test.
Brilliant point #3: Is Rick Warren really a smart enemy to choose?
Q: Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family - divorce or gay marriage? A: [laughs] That's a no brainer. Divorce. There's no doubt about it.
Q: So why do we hear so much more - especially from religious conservatives - about gay marriage than about divorce?
A: Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? [Note: Warren is quite overweight.]
Q: Just to clarify, do you support civil unions or domestic partnerships?
A: I don't know if I'd use the term there but I support full equal rights for everybody in America. I don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles so I fully support equal rights.
Q: What about partnership benefits in terms of insurance or hospital visitation?
A: You know, not a problem with me.
I have an idea: let's accept equal rights for all. Equal rights are the issue when it comes to national politics. That's Obama's position, and I think he has it right.
By the way, that's the exact same position Barack Obama has ... and the same one that, well, I have. Does that make me a bigot?
Ostertag's closing is perfect:
Just a reminder to all those gays and lesbians who never look beyond their cultural ghetto: we've got some serious problems going on in the world today that need to be addressed now. Global warming in particular can't wait. For thirty years Evangelical Christians have been the anchor that has pulled this country to the right, giving us first Reaganism and then Bushism. Wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. And a decade of world-threatening climate change denialism.
At a minimum, 80 million Americans identify as evangelicals, and up to double that depending on how you define evangelical. They are the largest single religious group in the country, and the fastest growing. They are not going away. Somehow, some way, queers are going to have to share this country with all these people.
I am delighted that there is a new generation of evangelicals that thinks the biggest issue isn't homosexuality but global climate change, AIDS, and poverty. And who "don't believe we should have unequal rights depending on particular lifestyles." I am so ready to make common cause with them. I couldn't care less about what they think of gay marriage.
I wish more people in the gay community would listen. Barack Obama has seized the opportunity to speak to those 80 million or so evangelicals, 72 percent of whom did not vote for him. By inviting Warren to the party, he has at least gotten their attention, and signaled to the country that he intends to do the opposite of what our current president did after being appointed in 2000. Then, George W. Bush decided to govern only his half of the country, and to screw the rest. Obama wants to be the president of an entire nation, not the "queer nation." And trying to force him to cotton to a narrow political agenda ... or else ... isn't exactly buying into the notion of a "new politics," which is more than just a cobbling together of the interest groups on your side. Obama isn't going to waste his time "paying back" constituency groups who got him elected. He's going to fix the country, starting with, as Joe Biden said today on "This Week," the most pressing issue of all: the economy. After that, he's got two wars, global warming, and major foreign policy challenges like Pakistan, India and the like, to tackle. Sorry, but gay marriage is not top of the list.
Sideber: And by the way, at the close of his quite downtrodden TIME Magazine article, John Cloud suggests that Barack Obama will now have to "do something very nice" for the gay community, like overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" by fiat, or nominating an openly gay Secretary of the Navy. He says he's not holding his breath. He shouldn't. Obama is clearly a student of history, and will remember what happened when one William Jefferson Clinton made such an attempt at constituent payoff. The result, the aforementioned "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," wound up angering both the gay community, and the military, which remained alienated from Clinton until the end of his presidency. If Obama were to try to push the envelope, he too will lose a military whose rank and file remain majority Republican and often suspicious of "liberal" politicians, and in one fell swoop, he would undo the good will and currency he has carefully built up with his moderate appointments, and harm his ability to push his economic agenda through. Obama would do well to pass on this one.
People for the American Way issues a statement of displeasure regarding Rick Warren's participation in the inaugural. It reads in part:
Pastor Warren, while enjoying a reputation as a moderate based on his affable personality and his church's engagement on issues like AIDS in Africa, has said that the real difference between James Dobson and himself is one of tone rather than substance. He has recently compared marriage by loving and committed same-sex couples to incest and pedophilia. He has repeated the Religious Right's big lie that supporters of equality for gay Americans are out to silence pastors. He has called Christians who advance a social gospel Marxists. He is adamantly opposed to women having a legal right to choose an abortion.
I'm sure that Warren's supporters will portray his selection as an appeal to unity by a president who is committed to reaching across traditional divides. Others may explain it as a response to Warren inviting then-Senator Obama to speak on AIDS and candidate Obama to appear at a forum, both at his church. But the sad truth is that this decision further elevates someone who has in recent weeks actively promoted legalized discrimination and denigrated the lives and relationships of millions of Americans.
But as US News and World Report writer Dan Gilgoff points out, the Warren selection is just the latest move in the Obama charm offensive to the religious among us -- partially because, he IS one of the religious among us. I know the "he's a Muslim" crowd don't want to believe it, and neither do my friends on the left, but um ... Obama is himself, a Rick Warren-style Christian (conservative values, friendly demeanor, keen on moving beyond abortion.) Or pretty close to it. And as The Swamp puts it:
... for Obama, making a statement about his inclusiveness and willingness to reach across ideological lines is more important than satisfying liberals on every issue as he has shown with his cabinet choices.
In fact, PFAW's reaction may help Obama with some centrist and more conservative voters.
Also, many African American church goers tend to share Warren's views on social issues. So the issue is more complicated than simply right and left.
The Joint Congressional Committee in charge of the inauguration just released the order of events for January 20. Spoiler alert: there will be Aretha! ... and apparently, Obama has forgiven Rick Warren for hooking John McCain up with that phony "cone of silence..." during his non-debate debate this summer. Talk about a purpose driven life! Okay, actually, Warren took a risk back in 2006 by inviting Obama to Saddleback Church over the objections of the really scary fundies, so why not forgive ... Here's the press release:
WASHINGTON, DC - Senator Dianne Feinstein, Chairman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, today announced the program for the 56th Presidential Inauguration, which will take place on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2009.
"I am delighted to announce this superb line-up of participants in the 2009 inaugural ceremonies," said Senator Feinstein. "The inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama will be an event of historic proportion. It is appropriate that the program will include some of the world's most gifted artists from a wide range of backgrounds and genres."
The program participants were invited by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies and chosen by the Chairman, the Presidential-elect and the Vice President-elect. In addition to Senator Feinstein, the members of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies include: Senator Bob Bennett, Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer; and House Republican Leader John Boehner.
The order of the program will be as follows:
Musical Selections The United States Marine Band
Musical Selections The San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus
Call to Order and Welcoming Remarks The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Invocation Dr. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA
Musical Selection Aretha Franklin
Oath of Office Administered to Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. By Associate Justice of the Supreme Court The Honorable John Paul Stevens
Musical Selection, John Williams, composer/arranger Itzhak Perlman, Violin Yo-Yo Ma, Cello Gabriela Montero, Piano Anthony McGill, Clarinet
Oath of Office Administered to President-elect Barack H. Obama By the Chief Justice of the United States The Honorable John G. Roberts, Jr.
Inaugural Address The President of the United States, The Honorable Barack H. Obama
Poem Elizabeth Alexander
Benediction The Reverend Dr. Joseph E. Lowery
The National Anthem The United States Navy Band "Sea Chanters"
Sidebar: Rev. Lowry was a very early Obama supporter, and one of the few, unfortunately, from the original Civil Rights Movement. He was in Miami at the re-dedication of the former "colored beach," Virginia Key, earlier this year, and gave a hell of a speech on Obama. He's exactly the guy to do the benediction. And look for it to be a barn burner.
And a little bit about the poet:
Elizabeth Alexander is a poet, essayist, playwright, and teacher. She is the author of four books and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. She has received many grants and honors, most recently the Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellowship for work that "contributes to improving race relations in American society and furthers the broad social goals of the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954," and the 2007 Jackson Prize for Poetry. She is a professor at Yale University and was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University this year.
Thinking the unthinkable: is Pastor Rick ... a liar?
Pastor Rick Warren is on Larry King right now, giving a post-op on his civil forum on Saturday. I turned the channel and TiVo didn't pick up the beginning of the interview, so somebody please email me and let me know if King asked him about the "cone of silence." A preliminary interview with Beliefnet suggests he won't be forthcoming.
But another aspect of the interview which I did catch is really bugging me. An emailer asked Warren when he did the "coin flip" to determine which candidate would go first. Warren stumbled around a bit, and then said that he did the coin toss "about a month ago," and that when he put the forum together, "we decided who would go first ... and the format."
He flipped the coin a month ago?
Meanwhile, Warren was on "Hannity and Colmes" in the half hour before he did CNN. Hannity asked him a "lightning round" of questions nearly identical to the ones he asked John McCain and Barack Obama on Saturday, including whether he believes life begins at conception (the answer: "of course," and which Supreme Court justices HE wouldn't have nominated. Warren hedged on this one, but then couched his answer with, "well I'm a conservative, so..."
Less than a half hour later, on CNN, Warren had an exchange with Larry King in which he declared that there are many Americans who agree with some parts of the Democratic agenda and some parts of the Republican agenda, and who are neither completely left nor completely right when it comes to issues. King asked if Warren would put himself in that category. Warren's answer sure wasn't "well I'm a conservative." Instead, he said "of course."
So he's a conservative, but also in the middle ... depending on which cable network he's on?
UPDATE: The transcript on the Larry King interview with Rick Warren is in. Here's the part I missed last night:
KING: From Lake Forest, California, we welcome -- it's always great to see him, a frequent visitor to this show. Not frequent enough, by the way. Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church, best-selling author of "The Purpose Driven Life." and on Saturday, he conducted those interviews with Senators Obama and McCain at the Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency.
Let's take care of one thing right away. You introduced Obama and said that Senator McCain and said he was in a cone of silence.
KING: Now, obviously, Rick Warren would never tell a mistruth.
Did you not know that he was in an automobile?
WARREN: I didn't know they had put -- hadn't put him into the Green Room yet. No, I didn't. When we walked in, I knew he hadn't been in about 10 minutes earlier. And I figured within the 10 minutes we got there, they had put him in.
The whole thing is really kind of bogus, Larry. The Supreme -- I mean, the Secret Service were with him the whole time. Then our facility's staff -- our security staff were with him. And he was put in a building completely separate from everybody else. And there's no way he could hear. I've been talking about this all day. There was a rumor going around that he watched the program on a monitor in the Green Room that we had him in.
Well, there's only one problem with it. My staff, Chuck Taylor, disconnected that thing two days before it happened. So if he -- if they had happened to turn it on, it would have been all just static.
And both Barack and John agreed to the terms that said we will not listen to the other's, we will not get the questions in advance.
Actually, what happened is I did give Obama one in advance that I didn't get to Senator McCain because he wasn't there. Right before we started, I wanted to tell them there's going to be one question that I'm going to ask you for a commitment on. And I didn't think that was fair to ask for a commitment publicly without setting them up. And it had to do with orphans.
And so I did get to tell Senator Obama about that question. But because Senator McCain wasn't there, he hadn't -- he didn't have that question yet.
KING: All right.
Well, could he have heard it in the car, though, if he was still arriving at the event?
WARREN: You know what, if -- not a chance. The Secret Service would have reported it. When he showed up, there were -- and he says he didn't. You know, I...
KING: All right.
WARREN: ...I just have to accept his integrity on that.
Was it a stacked deck against Obama in the fact that this was Orange County and an Evangelical audience?
WARREN: Yes. Well, there's no doubt about it. I mean it was Orange County. And you're going to have more of a conservative audience.
But if you listen to applause, it's pretty equal in a lot of the places. And we gave an equal number of tickets to both campaigns. So they both had their -- their partisans in there at the same time and they had the exact same number of people.
KING: We have an e-mail question from Jeff in Wheaton, Illinois: "Pastor Warren, you said Saturday that there had been a coin flip to determine who went first."
KING: "When did this coin flip occur? Where were the senators when it took place?"
WARREN: Well, they were certainly weren't around. I just did it with my staff about a month before we even started the program. I started collecting questions myself a month in advance. And right off the bat, I said well, somebody is going to have to go first.
When I created this idea, why don't we figure out a civil way to do this, where the guys can express their views and their opinions in a civil -- a civilized, non-rude, non-got you type of format?
And I just decided why don't we just do one hour at time...
KING: Well, you did it.
WARREN: ...and we'll do them back to back. And I'll ask the identical questions so there's no bias in it.
KING: Excellent way to do it.
Not that Larry is biased... And here's the video:
You be the judge... Meanwhile, Barry Lynn calls Obama's appearance at the forum a mistake:
This crowd was swarming toward McCain to begin with, and Rick Warren has quite conservative views on plenty of hot button issues. But Warren is still a man best known for his homey advice about putting God first (not a very controversial notion for a Christian), so many viewers probably thought he would play "fair and balanced." Well, Jay, he did not. He was clearly well-schooled on how to set up questions with well-tested right-wing talking points, so that Obama would have had to spend a great deal of time just correcting the questioner. (You and I understand that technique well, both as talk show guests and hosts of our own shows.)
Let me give you a few examples on core constitutional and human rights questions. Here was Warren's set up to his stem cell questions: "We've had this scientific breakthrough of creating these pluri-potent stem cells in adult cells..." as if everybody knows we don't need all those embryonic stem cells which create all the problems for "pro-lifers." That crowd would rather grow all these "frozen" embryos into "snowflake babies" (which will never happen) and refuse to admit that these embryos will eventually be discarded as medical waste. But Warren's setup is the problem: there was no great breakthrough that means that all research can be done with adult cells. That is the line of the Religious Right; it is not the scientific consensus. To the lay listener, however, it sounded like God's own truth, not Pastor Warren's spin. Senator Obama more or less fell into the presumption, too.
The fake 'cone of silence' ... plus: is John McCain embellishing his Vietnam stories for political gain?
Apparently, Pastor Rick Warren was surprised to learn that his pretend maverick guest, John McCain, wasn't in a "cone of silence" after all while Barack Obama was taking questions at the Saddleback Church's civil forum:
The McCain campaign, which flew here Sunday from California, said Mr. McCain was in his motorcade on the way to the church as Mr. Obama was being interviewed by the Rev. Rick Warren.
The matter is of interest because Mr. McCain, who followed Mr. Obama’s hourlong appearance in the forum, was asked virtually the same questions as Mr. Obama. Mr. McCain’s performance was well received, raising speculation among some viewers, especially supporters of Mr. Obama, that he was not as isolated during the Obama interview as Mr. Warren implied.
Mr. Warren, pastor of Saddleback, had assured the audience while he was interviewing Mr. Obama that “we have safely placed Senator McCain in a cone of silence” and that he could not hear the questions.
After Mr. Obama’s interview, he was joined briefly by Mr. McCain and the candidates shook hands and embraced.
Mr. Warren started by asking him, “Now, my first question: Was the cone of silence comfortable that you were in just now?”
Mr. McCain deadpanned, “I was trying to hear through the wall.”
Yeah, the wall of his car, in which he was riding to the church while most likely being briefed on the questions by an aide who was following the forum for him on his or her iPhone (sure, McCain doesn't know how to use one, but that's what young aides are for...)
The McCain camp trotted out this not-unexpected defense:
Nicolle Wallace, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, said on Sunday night that Mr. McCain had not heard the broadcast of the event while in his motorcade and heard none of the questions. “The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous,” Ms. Wallace said.
Sure, sure, when in doubt, draw for the "war hero" card. We all know that former POWs never lie... Well if the McCain campaign wants to talk incessantly (as the candidate did himself at Saddleback,) about the greatness of John McCain's Vietnam service, is it fair to ask whether he is embellishing the stories of that service for political gain? I say it is. So let's...
Last week, a speech by Sen. John McCain had phrases that were likely lifted directly from Wikipedia.
Now it seems McCain may have lifted another story last night at megachurch pastor Rick Warren's Faith Forum. According to a very persuasive Daily Kos diary, the anecdote McCain told about a North Vietnamese prison guard making a cross in the dirt as a sign of solidarity -- or as he said, "just two Christians worshiping together" -- is very similar to a story about Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his times in the Soviet Gulags.
CQP has the Solzhenitsyn passage, along with links to other doubters about McCain's version of events when in 'Nam:
Steven Waldman [on Beliefnet] notes that McCain's recounting of this story has changed over the years and "has gradually morphed from being about the humanity of the guard to being about the Christian faith of the guard and John McCain."
That last piece is important, because if McCain only recently began telling that story, or worse, if he did so in conjunction with his candidacy for office, that seems to me to be a serious thing, especially given what was done to John Kerry in 2004. And just to make things interesting, guess who McCain's witness is for the cross story? Why, one Bud Day, the Florida crank and member of the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth. Day figures in many of McCain's Vietnam-faith stories, but curiously, the cross story often does not, as in this glowing profile of McCain in the Chicago Tribune, where a Christmas riot makes the grade, but the cross in the sand does not...
Shortly after John McCain came back from Vietname in 1973, he wrote a detailed 12,000 word report of his experiences that was published in US News and World Report.
Even though McCain goes into a lot of detail in that story and mentions religion a few times, there is no mention of the cross in the sand story, even though it would have fitted in well with the whole narrative. There are numerous mentions of Vietnamese guards in the reports, mostly bad ones but also good ones, but there is no indication at all that any of them would have been Christian, although "[a] lot of them were homosexual".
So even though McCain yesterday said:
It was Christmas day, we were allowed to stand outside of our cell for a few minutes, and those days we were not allowed to see or communicate with each other although we certainly did. And I was stadning outside for my few minutes, outside my cell. He came walking up. He stood there for a minute and with his handle [sandal?] on the dirt in the courtyard he drew a cross and he stood there and a minute later, he rubbed it out and walked away. For a minute there, there as just two Christians worshiping together. I'll never forget that moment so every day -
That moment he will never forget wasn't worth spending a few of those 12,000 words on.
Recall that McCain has already been caught massaging his "NFL team as my squadron" story to pander to Pennsylvania voters. He is becoming notorious for failing to remember details about his own voting record, including last night, when he served up four "liberal" Supreme Court justices he wouldn't nominate, despite the fact that he voted to confirm two of them when Bill Clinton was president (something he bragged about to Hillary Clinton dead-enders as recently as June...) And also at the Rick Warren forum, he cited a story about "evil" Iraqis strapping suicide belts on two retarded women -- a story that has long since been debunked. On the "cross in the sand story," there's also this problematic fact:
There is a real question here about whether McCain embellishing the story of his captivity in 'Nam, in order to make it more compelling to certain voters -- in this case, members of the religious right, who the inimitable Frank Rich points out McCain hasn't exactly been friendly with in the recent past. And if he is, does anyone in the media, or the Obama campaign, have the stones to call him on it?
UPDATE: The McCain campaign has adopted nearly the entire Hillary Clinton/Mark Penn primary playbook, complete with attempts to bully the press into getting back to the traditional, suck-up coverage of John McCain. This time, the campaign has demanded a meeting with NBC News president Steve Capus to protest, of all people, Andrea Mitchell, probably the one consistently objective reporter left in Washington. The reason? That darned "cone of silence..." Part of the letter from Rick Davis to Capus reads:
We are extremely disappointed to see that the level of objectivity at NBC News has fallen so low that reporters are now giving voice to unsubstantiated, partisan claims in order to undercut John McCain.
Nowhere was this more evident than with NBC chief correspondent Andrea Mitchell's comments on "Meet the Press" this morning. In analyzing last night's presidential forum at Saddleback Church, Mitchell expressed the Obama campaign spin that John McCain could only have done so well last night because he "may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama." Here are Andrea Mitchell's comments in full:
Mitchell: "The Obama people must feel that he didn't do quite as well as they might have wanted to in that context, because what they are putting out privately is that McCain may not have been in the cone of silence and may have had some ability to overhear what the questions were to Obama. He seemed so well-prepared." (NBC's "Meet The Press," 8/17/08)
Make no mistake: This is a serious charge. Andrea Mitchell is repeating, uncritically, a completely unsubstantiated Obama campaign claim that John McCain somehow cheated in last night's forum at Saddleback Church. Instead of trying to substantiate this blatant falsehood in any way, Andrea Mitchell felt that she needed to repeat it on air to millions of "Meet the Press" viewers with no indication that 1.) There's not one shred of evidence that it's true; 2.) In his official correspondence to both campaigns, Pastor Rick Warren provided both candidates with information regarding the topic areas to be covered, which Barack Obama acknowledged during the forum when asked about Pastor Warren's idea of an emergency plan for orphans and Obama said, "I cheated a little bit. I actually looked at this idea ahead of time, and I think it is a great idea;" 3.) John McCain actually requested that he and Barack Obama do the forum together on stage at the same time, making these kinds of after-the-fact complaints moot.
Indeed, instead of taking a critical journalistic approach to this spin, Andrea Mitchell did what has become a pattern for her of simply repeating Obama campaign talking points.
Are you kidding me? Andrea Mitchell? Talking points? You must have her confused with David Gregory and YOUR talking points...
Meg Whitman??? ... and other thoughts on the Rick Warren presidential forum
My initial impression of the Rick Warren "civil discussion" tonight featuring one hour each for Barack Obama and John McCain is that the forum, and particularly the questions, did seem tailor made for McCain, which isn't surprising because Warren, like most evangelical leaders, is a Republican. Still, I thought he was fair, for the most part (except when he failed to remind John McCain to stay off his stump speech,) and thoughtful, and his forum enlightening. So here's the scorecard:
1. Thanks for nothing, honey. When asked who the smartest people he knew were, and who he would turn to for advice as president, Barack mentioned his wife and grandmother as the wisest, then fired off an assortment of Republican and Democratic colleagues in the Senate like Dick Lugar and former Sen. Sam Nunn as people he would turn to for advice (interestingly, he did not include either Clinton...) John McCain coldly ignored poor Cindy altogether, not to mention his very old mother, and instead reeled off the strangest triad I've ever heeard: Gen. Petraeus (surprise, surprise) Democratic Congressman John Lewis ... a Clinton friend and flip-flop to Obama guy, and Meg Whitman, the CEO of Ebay. HUH???
Whitman is a McCain campaign co-chair, She's also a former Romney girl, which increases the possibility that he's being influenced in that veep direction. And I guess he thought he was being economically hip by mentioning an online company that was hot like, ten years ago. The John Lewis thing I can't even begin to explain. Maybe he got his Georgias confused... Score this one: Obama. 2. Talking points memo. I have to give this one to McCain, who will, as David Gergen noted on CNN tonight, be a tougher debater than the Obama Nation might have imagined. While I found him irritating (he's simply got to drop the "my friends" thing -- it's extremely creepy and weird...) pandering and repetitive (war, war, Gen. Petraeus, war, al-Qaida, Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam, can I tell you one more story about Vietnam, my friends...?) he did what any communications director wants to see: he fired off the talking points and repeated them over, and over and over again, no matter what he was asked. When asked about his greatest moral failing, he gave a clipped answer: "the failure of my first marriage," and then moved right back to his stump speech talking points. Asked about abortion, he begged to talk about the Supreme Court, so he could give his talking points. (and then mentioned he would not have nominated the four liberal justices, including David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Steven Breyer, all of whom he voted to confirm in the Senate, by the way ... he probably would have voted to confirm John Paul Stevens, too, but he wasn't in the Senate in 1975 ...) Asked about security vs. privacy, he threw in secret union ballots -- a right wing favorite topic -- straight out of left field ... McCain pandered on every answer to his audience of religious right voters, and was aggressive at promoting his ... you guessed it: talking points. McCain came off more blatantly political and Obama more thoughtful and authentic, but that may not matter to undecided voters, who want one of these candidates to force them to make up their minds. Score this one: McCain.
3. Too cool for school? Barack Obama was his usual cool, languid self, but his communications team has simply got to get him to shorten his answers. By being so thoughtful and nuanced, Obama missed the chance to take more questions, and he failed to get across clear, succinct messages. On the up-side, he actually had an intimate, real conversation with Rick Warren, whereas McCain simply hammered on the talking points and pandered to the audience, rarely addressing Warren directly. I think Obama hit paydirt with his Supreme Court answer by saying that the justice he would not have nominated would be unqualified Clarence Thomas (he righties are just seething over that one, and we love that!) But as Chuck Todd points out over at First Read:
Obama spent more time trying to impress Warren (or to put another away) not offend Warren while McCain seemingly ignored Warren and decided he was talking to folks watching on TV. The McCain way of handling this forum is usually the winning way. Obama may have had more authentic moments but McCain was impressively on message.
Score this one: McCain.
4. Land mine avoidance. McCain completely circumvented Rich Warren's attempts to get him to elaborate on issues that could split him from the right wing of his party. His six word answer to the "worst personal moral failing" question was one example, but he did that one better when he completely avoided the obvious answer to the question of what instance he could cite when he bucked his party at great political risk to himself. The obvious answers: campaign finance reform and immigration reform. McCain chose neither one, instead picking climate change, or something... Warren, who we should stipulate is not a reporter, didn't follow up. Score this one: McCain.
5. Maybe this would have been a good time for McCain to mention his wife? Asked by Warren what amount of income qualifies someone to be considered "rich," Barack gave a pretty good answer, joking that anybody who has sold 25 million books, as Warren has, qualifies. But then he got down to numbers, saying that if you make over $250,000 a year, "you're doing pretty well." McCain? He set the low bar for being considered rich at a cool $5 million. As Chris Kofinis said on Fox tonight, that was an opposition ad waiting to happen, and that ad should be made. Score this one: Obama.
6. Faith first. This was, after all, supposed to be a faith forum, and on that score, Obama won by a mile. He came off as much more humble, more conversant with the topic of faith, and more versed in Biblical scripture. He talked about man's need for humility in confronting evil, knowing that God is the only one capable of eliminating evil from the world, while McCain went into full eye bulge, vowing to "chase bin Laden to the gates of Hell" and using the church venue to attack "Islamic fascism." Obama said that marriage was a sacred union, where "God is in the mix," but his missed a chance to use the phrase, "I have been married to one woman for 15 years, and have vowed before God to remain with her for life," which his communications team MUST insert into his talking points. Still, compared with McCain's staccato answers on spiritual matters, Obama won by a mile. Score this one: Obama.
Final score: Obama - 3, McCain - 3. A good old fashioned draw, which unfortunately is pretty good news for John McCain. |