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McCain Enters the Race at Saddleback   August 17th, 2008


More observations...

This afternoon I started writing an article about why I was going to vote for Obama. I kid you not. I'm a Republican but I began writing an article about my reasoning for voting for Obama, which I was seriously considering.

As we all know, McCain is not a particular hero to many rank and file Republicans. Among those, me. I haven't been enthusiastic about this election because McCain doesn't really have a particularly strong history of being a reliable Republican. He seems to believe in human-induced global warming, he was against the Bush tax cuts, and until recently he was against offshore oil drilling.

As I started to write about my reasoning for voting for Obama, I did some Googling to verify positions held by Obama and McCain. I was surprised to find that I was completely mistaken about McCain's position on key issues. Sure, his history is not unblemished as a Republican, but his history was not seeming nearly as bad as I had thought.

Then I found that both Obama and McCain were going to appear this evening (Saturday, August 16th, 2008) at Saddleback Church. I normally do not find debates particularly useful, but since I had just realized I may be mistaken on some of my beliefs about McCain, I decided to watch it.

It was a unique--and decidedly more useful--debate format. Instead of useless back-and-forth bickering typical of most presidential debates, the format was that one candidate would be asked questions for an hour, then the other candidate would be asked questions for an hour--but the second candidate would not be allowed to hear the interaction with the first. The two candidates would only meet in passing as one candidate left the stage and the other took the stage. This allowed the same questions to be asked of each candidate and their responses were not influenced by the response of the other. It was decidedly more civil than typical presidential debates and far more useful.

The two candidates flipped for the order in which they would appear. Obama went first while McCain waited out of earshot.

As I watched Obama I felt his responses were careful and well thought-out. Although I do not agree with a lot of Obama's policies, I felt he made a compelling and civil case for his positions. He was not as graceful an orator as I had once thought he would be and seemed to hesitate a lot during his responses, but I felt that was not particularly surprising because he was, after all, answering very direct on-the-spot questions. While I did feel he was often walking a political minefield and clearly speaking slowly in order to calculate the best political response, his responses weren't bad.

Still, as Obama finished his participation I felt that Obama had made a pretty good case for his position. While he was not quite the master orator that some might still expect given the praise he usually receives on that front, he was still compelling. As Obama left the stage I felt that I knew him better, I was a little less uncomfortable with him, and I could see myself voting for him. In the absence of a good reason to vote for McCain, I still saw myself very possibly voting for Obama. I was just waiting for McCain to come out to crash and burn. Obama's delivery wasn't perfect but I figured, "What possibility is there of a 72-year old being able to compete with that."

Then McCain came out. For the first minute or two, I felt it was going to a painful hour. He seemed a bit old, a bit intimidated, and initially I just got the impression there was no way he was going to be able to compete with Obama's charisma.

But that impression was temporary at best.

I have to say that McCain's performance this evening in the debate was excellent. I was decidedly not a McCain supporter before today. I was, at best, a reluctant voter for McCain but even seriously considering voting for Obama. Not anymore.

If you didn't see the debate, I hope you have an opportunity to. I assume it will eventually be posted somewhere on the Internet, and I will eventually attempt to find it and link to it. (Link to part 1 of 4: CNN Video).

I felt that McCain did an excellent job at reassuring Republicans of where he stands on the issues, and that he stands close enough with the Republicans on enough issues that we legitimately can be excited about voting for him.

Further, I think McCain did an excellent job showing America how a president should convey himself. Agree or disagree with his positions, McCain delivered his responses directly, without dancing around delicate subjects, and without concern about offending certain voting blocks. He said what he believed and while Obama's responses seemed slow and politically calculated, McCain delivered his responses with a frankness that is usually missing in politics. He told the world what he believes with no apologies.

McCain also showed that while he may be 72 years old, he's at least as quick on his feet as Obama--and probably quicker. McCain knocked out each question with confidence and directness that allowed him to be asked more questions than Obama, because Obama's answers were more drawn-out or required qualification.

Take, for example, the question on merit pay for excellent teachers. Obama's response was not bad, but it seemed to be more drawn-out than it had to be; and a particular part of his answer definitely seemed to pander to the teacher's union. McCain, on the other hand, didn't even let Pastor Rick finish the question before he answered with, "Yes, yes, and find bad teachers another line of work."

Another example was the question on whether or not evil exist and, if it exists, should it be ignored, negotiated with, contained, or defeated. Obama's response was not particularly bad, but it wasn't clear which of the four options he chose: He said it had to be confronted, but it's not clear what that meant. McCain, on the other hand, responded directly: "Defeated." No qualifications, no explanations, simply defeated.

In my mind, August 16th, 2008 is the day that McCain turned the campaign around. It is my belief that if every American had been watching the 2-hour debate this evening, McCain would have just cinched the election. He definitely seemed more confident, more experienced, and more direct about his beliefs while Obama seemed uneasy, inexperienced, and really seemed to be tap-dancing around his answers so as not to offend anyone. And I'll admit Obama did a good job at that: While I disagreed with him on a number of issues, he presented his position well enough that I wasn't violently opposed to him. But McCain just stole the show.

I actually feel I can support McCain. I think if Americans are exposed to McCain, there's a very high probability he will win in November. The question is whether or not enough Americans will be exposed to the McCain we saw tonight. The presidential debates will be key, and I suspect that--given tonight's showing--McCain will most likely trounce Obama when confronting him head-to-head.

I believe the 2008 election just got interesting.

UPDATE 8/17/2008 IN THE AFTERNOON: As time has passed, additional commentary is beginning to be discoverable via Google. I was very interested in finding whether my initial impressions from last night were "just me" or reflected a more general reaction to the forum. It seems that I'm not the only one with the opinions expressed above.

I was also interested in hearing the viewpoints of liberals and independents. They, too, are becoming visible through Google. It seems that, so far, the main criticism from those groups are that 1) McCain is just a warmonger and, 2) Obama responded more deeply and thoughtfully while McCain just gave his standard stump answers.

Regarding being a warmonger, I guess that's mostly because McCain said unequivocally that evil should be "defeated." I think McCain's answer was the right one and if that constitutes "warmongering," so be it. History has shown us that evil cannot be ignored or negotiated with. Obama said evil should be "confronted" and that we can be "soldiers" against evil, but it's not clear whether that would constitute containing or defeating evil. McCain's answer was decisive and I think we need that in today's world.

The other issue, about Obama responding more deeply and thoughtfully while McCain just gave a standard stump speech may be true. I really don't pay attention to what candidates say on the stump--I generally look at their history and their votes for an indication of what they believe rather than trusting what they say they believe when they're trying to win an election. So perhaps McCain did just repeat his stump speech. I will agree that Obama's responses allowed me to get to know him more than I did--I already know his positions and I don't particularly like them, but now I feel a little more comfortable about Obama as a person. When it comes to McCain, I did get to know him a little but more than anything I learned about his positions.

I think both candidates got exactly what they wanted to get out of the forum. Obama was able to come across as more of a person rather than the almost non-human deity-treatment he's getting in the mainstream media; so I felt a little more comfortable with Obama as a person after the forum. When it came to McCain, I felt that I had learned about his positions which weren't nearly as independent from the Republican party as I had previously believed.

The truth is, Obama's not going to have much luck winning the evangelical vote. The best he can do is put people at ease and hope that some of those evangelicals on the fence might feel comfortable enough now to vote for him--but he didn't want to offend his base which is providing him massive strength right now. McCain, on the other hand, isn't going to win many liberals. With the exception of a few disgruntled Hillary supporters, liberals are fired up about Obama and simply are not going to abandon one of their most energetic campaigns for McCain. And I think McCain knows that. So McCain's message was not in any way hoping to win over liberals that he probably won't get anyway. Rather, McCain's message was targeted squarely at the Republican base.

And McCain had to target the Republican base because, most likely, the number of Republicans apathetic about their candidate was far more than the number of independents and liberals that McCain could get from trying to diplomatically court those voters with middle-of-the-road nonsense. So it seems McCain made a calculated decision to focus on trying to energize the Republican base against Obama's energized liberal base, and to let the "chips" (the independent voters) fall where they may.

Overall, I do think McCain benefited more from this event than Obama. Obama didn't lose any votes and he may have gained a few borderline evangelical votes that he might have won eventually anyway. But McCain, I think, successfully fired up a Republican party that has been apathetic until now. Given the Democrats' excitement in this election, an apathetic Republican party is a recipe for a resounding loss regardless of whether McCain could win some independents and poach some Hillary supporters. If your base doesn't make the effort to vote for you, it's simply not reasonable to think others will.

So Obama put some people at ease and McCain fired up the Republican base. I don't think either candidate could have hoped for anything more than exactly what they both achieved.

UPDATE 8/19/2008: I'm noticing that the Saddleback forum is becoming a good way to measure the credibility and bias of people and the press. Anyone who claims that McCain says that "Rich is defined as $5 million" is either ignorant or has an extreme liberal bias. When McCain said that in the forum, he said it jokingly and even said immediately following, "But seriously..." and then after a few more words commented "That's going to get distorted." Watch the video yourself. McCain made the $5 million comment and laughed, the host laughed, and even the audience laughed (not clapped, mind you). Everyone knew it was a joke.

Yet I've noticed that some liberals are starting to use that against McCain as if it were true and not a joke. For example, Jack Cafferty at CNN writes "He was asked to define rich. After trying to dodge the question -- his wife is worth a reported $100 million -- he finally said he thought an income of $5 million was rich." . Did Jack watch the debate? Does he not realize that the comment was made in jest? Did he not remember that even McCain specifically said that that comment would be distorted, just as Jack is doing?

I'm going to start making a note of those articles I find that absolutely prove bias or ignorance by citing that $5 million figure. It's amazing that liberals try to use it when it was said in jest and McCain himself predicted it'd be distorted later. Seldom do we have such an accurate barometer of liberal bias. Anyone that portrays that $5 million figure is being intentionally deceptive since anyone who watches the video of the

Examples of liberal ignorance/bias that distort that $5 million figure:

  • "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama ripped Republican rival John McCain on Monday for joking during a televised discussion on values that $5 million fit the definition for being monetarily rich." Unfortunately, Obama apparently has no sense of humor. And Reuters, the source of this article, also displays its liberal bias by not pointing out that McCain was joking.
  • "Democratic operatives were quick to jump on the one major McCain slip up from Saturday's Saddleback forum: the off-the-cuff remark that $5 million was the line of demarcation for distinguishing the rich." Huffington Post. It wasn't a McCain slip-up, it was a joke that he said even while he laughed.
  • ""I think if you're just talking about income, how about $5 million?" The Arizona Republican quickly added that he was "sure that comment will be distorted," and his campaign said Sunday that he was joking." The LA Times reports this as if the campaign has to clarify the joke whereas anyone that sees the video knows it was a joke, there's no doubt whatsoever.

Edit History:
8/17/2008 Afternoon: I added the "update" section.
8/19/2008: Added "update" section about the $5 million "rich" figure offered by McCain.

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