I hadn’t really intended to watch last night’s presidential candidate forum hosted by Saddleback Church and their celebrity pastor, Rick Warren. Part of the reason was that I was uncomfortable with the idea of a church being the host of a purely political event.

I’m still not sure how involved churches need to be involved in politics although I agree with those who believe that IRS regulations that restrict pastors from discussing politics should be repealed.

I’m not a big fan of Rick Warren, either. For all the good he has done, I disagree with his whole purpose-driven approach to church. I didn’t care for his bestselling book as I thought it was too theologically shallow. I honestly wasn’t sure that he would be willing to ask tough questions. I doubted Pastor Warren’s motives thinking he was looking for a way to give Senator Barack Obama a chance to make an appeal to evangelical voters who could very much decide the outcome of the election.

The format of the forum with each candidate being asked the same questions separately and not knowing the other’s answers seemed a bit unconventional. I wasn’t sure it would work.

I was wrong.

Last night’s forum was one of the biggest moments of the campaign and the best opportunity for voters to see the stark contrast between these two men. If you didn’t get to see it, you should at least read the transcript.

Senator Obama was clearly uncomfortable in this format. His answers were often rambling and unclear. At times the viewer couldn’t be certain whether he had actually answered the original question. Perhaps he would have been better off if he had heeded Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen’s advice: “Instead of giving big speeches at big stadiums, he needs to give straight-up 10-word answers to people at Wal-Mart about how he would improve their lives.” (Hat tip: Hot Air)

Senator Obama is a great speaker and can make a speech like very few speakers I’ve ever heard before. But when you put him on the spot to answer questions in a debate or forum such as this, he can’t articulate clear answers to questions and tends to commit serious verbal gaffes. Either he was unprepared for the questions he was asked (which is inexcusable, since the abortion question, which led to the aforementioned gaffe was bound to come up) or it is a sign of his total lack of experience that drives him to perform so poorly in debates.

Senator McCain, on the other hand, was succint and clear in his answers to the questions posed. He dealt with each issue honestly and knew exactly where he stood. Some Obama supporters (including his media cheerleaders) suggested that McCain cheated by listening to the questions. Senator McCain didn’t need to cheat. He knows what he believes and says what he thinks without worrying about currying favor among potential voting groups. Such frankness is refreshing in a politician.

It’s also clear that McCain has a huge advantage over Senator Obama in experience. So much so that when you compare the two candidates answers side-by-side it’s clear that McCain is far more qualified than Obama. It’s no wonder than many felt McCain had a much better night.

Pastor Rick Warren did this country a great service by providing the public an opportunity to see these two candidates respond to the same set of questions. We learned a great deal last night about both these men. Perhaps the debate organizers could learn a thing or two from the Saddleback event. Maybe, as one commentator suggested today, they could get Pastor Warren to moderate one of the debates. We could do a lot worse.

Filed under: DemocratsPoliticsRepublicansTom

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