Warren, McCain, Obama and the Saddleback Civil Forum

Posted on August 16, 2008


If you haven’t heard the buzz around the “Civil Forum on the Presidency” hosted by Rick Warren, Saddleback, and Faith in Public Life, aired by CNN, (July interview with Warren) it was quite the event. Below is a “live-blog” post of the questions asked, the responses, which were around these four areas:

1. The Stewardship of the Presidency.
2. Leadership – competence, character, convictions, experience, personal lives, etc.
3. Worldview – faith and moral issues.
4. America’s International Role.

Screen shot from http://www.saddlebackcivilforum.com (2008-08-15)

(NOTE: because of the live blogging so thanks for your grace on the typos… I missed a bit of the opening due to computer error…grr… a few of the closing pieces, and of course a few sentences here and there.)

[NOTE: As the format has duplicated, what might be nice is an actual side by side rendering of the discussion. Since the actual will most likely be available through YouTube one day, give me a bit of time, and I’ll try and post the audio that has been edited so you can hear the answers back to back (in order, Obama first, McCain second), and I’ll reformat this blog post to reflect that as well. I’ll be out of the country (without internet access) for the next three weeks, so we’ll have to wait until after then.]

WARREN: We need to restore civility. We’ve got to learn to disagree without demonizing the other side.

Please welcome, Senator Barack Obama.

WARREN: The first area is the area of listening. “Fools think they need no… Proverbs… Who are the three wisest people in your life”

OBAMA: FIrst, let me say who are There are so many people that have helped shape. There is one person: Michelle. She’s not only wise, but she’s honest. My grandmother. An extraordinary woman. SHe never went to college, got a job as a secretary, and she’s just a very grounded, common sense, no fuss, no thrills kind of a person. What I’ve found very helpful for me, is to have around the table a lot of different points of view that can be represented. So, any blind spots that I have, that my assumptions are challenged.

WARREN: Integrity and love is the basis of leadership. What would be, looking over your life, would be the greatest moral failure of your life, and the greatest moral failure of America?

OBAMA: In my life, I would break it up into stages. I had a difficult youth. I experimented with drugs, I drank, in my teenage years. There was a certain selfishness on my part. I was obsessed with me, and I couldnt’ focus on other people. The process of growing up was to discover that it’s not about me. When I find myself taking the wrong step, I think a lot of the times it’s because I’m trying to protect myself, instead of doing God’s will.

I think America’s greatest moral failure, in my lifetime, is that we still dont’ abide by that basic precept in Matthew, whatever you do for the least of these my brothers, you do for me. That basic principle applies to poverty, racism, sexism, not having/thinking about ladders of opportunity for people to get into the middle class. As wealthy and powerful as we are, we still don’t spend enough time thinking about hte least of these.

WARREN: A lot of good legislation gets killed. Can you give me a time when you went against your own party loyalty, and even your own best interest, for the good of the country.

OBAMA: Campaign ethics reform, one I worked with John McCain on. I was new to the Senate. When I posed the initial decision to go to war in Iraq. And, I was just starting my campaign…

WARREN: Many candidates are accused of flip-flopping, but often that’s good because you…What’s the most significant decision you’ve flipped flopped on 10 years ago because you changed your mind?

OBAMA: A good example would be the issue of Welfare Reform. I always believed that welfare had to be changed. I was much more concerned ten years ago when President Clinton signed the bill, that this could have disastrous results. It worked better than people participated. One thing I’m absolutely convinced of, is that we have to have work as a set of social policies… (??) Not because people who work because people are getting more income, but because of intrinsic dignity.

WARREN: What’s the most gut-wrenching decision, and how did you process that and come to that decision?

OBAMA: The opposition to the war in Iraq, not only because of political consequences, but because Saddam Hussein was a very bad person and meant America ill. But I was not convinced at the time. There were a lot of questions that kept popping up. “Do we know how the Sunnis and Shias (Shiites) will get along post-Hussein Iraq?” When you meet the troops, these are 19, 20, 21 year old kids that you’re putting into harms way. You do everything you can to make that decision as carefully as you can. There are other decisions such as how do you


OBAMA: I am pro choice, not because I’m for abortion, but because I think women don’t make these decisions lightly. For me, the goal right now should be, and this is where we can find common ground, how do we reduce the number of abortions?

WARREN: Have you ever voted to limit abortions?

OBAMA: … If you believe that life begins at conception, and you’re consistent in that, then I can’t argue with you. What I can do, is work with you to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions. How do we provide the resources for women to want to keep the child; resources, adoption, etc.

WARREN: Define marriage.

OBAMA: I believe marriage is a union between a man and a woman (applause). For me, it’s also a sacred union, that is, God is in the mix.

WARREN: Would you support a constitutional amendment with that definition.

OBAMA: Because historically we have not defined it in our constitution. While I don’t promote same-sex marriage, I do believe in civil unions, for gay partners to visit each other in the hospital. I think my faith is strong enough and my marriage is strong enough that I can afford those civil rights to others who have a different point of view.

WARREN: Stem-cells. Do we still need federal funding for research?

OBAMA: Keep in mind that the stem cell research was structured by the President, you could only use stem cells that were being discarded. There were very specific mechanisms circumscribing them. We know that there… If adult stem-cell lines are working just as well, then of course we should avoid any moral arguments that would be in place.

But I want to make a broader point. It’s not like people who are in favor of stem-cell research are walking around “let’s destroy some embryos.” That’s not the mindset. They are not destroying the sacredness of human life. But in narrow circumstances, there is nothing wrong with us pursuing

WARREN: Does evil exist? If so, do we ignore it, contain it…?

OBAMA: Evil does exist. We see it in Darfur, sadly on the streets of our cities, in parents who abuse their children, and it has to be confronted, and dealt with squarely. We are not going to be able to, as individuals, erase evil from the world, which is God’s task, but we can be soldiers. We can confront it when we see it. We can have some humility when confronting evil. A lot of evil has been perpetrated through people who thought they were trying to do good. Just because our intentions are good, doesn’t mean we’re going to be do good.

WARREN: The Courts. Whic h existing Supreme Court justices would you not have nominated?

OBAMA: I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don’t  think that he was as strong enough, jurist or legal thinker for that elevation, setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretations of the constitution. Justice Scalia… John Roberts is a tougher decision, because I find him to be a comelling person, how he thinks and operates confirms the… One of the most important jobs of the Supreme COurt, is to guard the course of the Executive Branch. He’s been too willing to give an Administration more power than the constitution

WARREN: Faith-based organizations do a better job at helping rather than government. Civl rights act of ’64 says that faith-based organizations have a right to hire.. would you require faith-based organizations forfeit that right to receive federal funds.

OBAMA: Well, as you know, as I got my start working with churches, I know the power of faith-based institutions to get stuff done. When it comes, first of all to funding faith based organizations, they are always free to hire whoever they want, according to their mission, their pastor, etc. When it comes to the programs that are federally funded, we do have to be careful that we are not creating a situation that people are being discriminated against with federal money. In 95% of the circumstances it’s not an issue. There are some tough circumstances.

WARREN: If I took people to Katrina, and wanted to hire

OBAMA: This is a situation where the devil is in the details. As a general principle, we don’t want to use federal funding to discriminate.

WARREN: Education. America ranks 19th in graduation. We’re first in incarcerations. 80% of Americans believe in merit pay for teachers. Do you think better teachers should be paid better, more?

OBAMA: I think we should (and I’ve said this publically) set up a system of performance pay. We should also reward excellence.

WARREN: Define rich. I mean, give me a number.

OBAMA: If you’ve got book sales of 25 million, then you qualify (laughter). Look, here’s how I think about it, and this was reflected in my tax plan. If you’re making $150,000 or less as an American family, you’re middle class, of course, it depends on your region.

WARREN: In this region, you’re poor (applause, and laughter).

OBAMA: If you’re making $3-400,000, then you’re doing well. The question we have to ask ourselves is, if we believe in good schools, and good roads, if we don’t want to leave a mountain of debt for the next generation. We’ve got to pay for these things. They don’t come free. I think it’s irresponsible for us to invest $10 billion a month on a war, and have no way to pay for it. I haven’t sold 25 million books, but I’ve been selling some books. What I’m trying to do is create…


WARREN: In this last section, I want to talk about America. We are the most blessed nation in the world. Let’s talk about war. What’s worth dying for? What’s worth sacrificing American lives for?

OBAMA: Well, American freedom, American security, interests. I was just in Hawaii, and you’re reminded of the sacrifice that was made on behalf of your freedom.

WARREN: What would be the criteria that you would commit troops to get involved where there is genocide.

OBAMA: I don’t think there’s a hard and fast line. There’s always a judgement call. We have it within our power to prevent mass killing and genocide. If we can work with a community, then we should act. The international component is critical. Take an example of Bosnia, where we undoubtedly saved lives. But there was a strong case made that ethnic cleansing was taking place. When we have it in our power, we should take action.

WARREN: Most people don’t know that 140 million orphans in the world. They need to be in families, but a lot of families can’t afford to take them in. Would you be willing to institute an emergency plan for orphans?

OBAMA: I think it’s a great idea, something we should sit down and work out between non-governmental organizations, and try to figure out what we can do. Part of our plan though, is how do we prevent more orphans in the first place. That means we’re helping to build the public health structure around the world. I’m often a critic of President George Bush, but the PEPFAR program has saved lives.

WARREN: Religious persecution. What would you do, and not just CHristianity, but all…

OBAMA: We must first bear witness and speak out and not pretend that it’s not taking place. Our relationship with China is a difficult one. I don’t think any one of us want to see military conflict with China. We need to manage this relationship, but we can’t purchase that by ignoring the very real persecutions that are taking place. Having an administration that is speaking out…that is absolutely critical. We are setting up new norms and creating a universal principle. We must lead by example. That’s why it’s so important for us to have religious tolerance here in the United States.

WARREN: The third largest and the fastest growing criminal industry in the world is human trafficing. Many don’t know that there are 27 million …

OBAMA: This has to be top priority. We’ve already seen bipartisan agreement on this issue. … So, we’ve got to give prosecutors the tools to crack down on these networks. Internationally, we’ve got to forge alliances with others. It is a debasement of our common humanity.

WARREN: Tell me in one minute, why you want to be President.

OBAMA: I remember what my mother use to tell me. The one time that she’d get really angry with me if she thought I was being mean or unfair to somebody. Imagine looking through their eyes. The basic idea of empathy. What made America so special is that notion. If we see someone that can’t make it, we care for them too. I want to be President, because that’s the America I believe in and that American dream is slipping away. We’re at a critical juncture, and we’ve got to make some critical decisions…our government is so broken, I have the ability to build bridges to get people to work on common sense solutions to critical issues.

WARREN: What do you say to people that oppose me asking you questions.

OBAMA: These are the kinds of forums we need, where we have a conversation. Based on these conversations, it’s where people can make a good judgement. Things will work out, and we will get the President we need. What you want, is that people get good information, not these negative ads, or tit-for-tat that has become so common in politics. If we’re both known, and they know who we are,

WARREN: What would you tell the American public if you knew there wouldn’t be any repercussions?

OBAMA: Solving the energy problem isn’t going to be easy, and we’re going to have to work together…if we pretent that everything is free and there is no sacrifice involved, we are betraying the history of this country. If they’re willing to make scrifices, so should we.

WARREN: And as you’re standing, would you please welcome Senator John McCain.

WARREN: Who are the three wisest peole you know who you would rely on heavily in administration?

MCCAIN: General David Petreus, one of the great leaders who took us from defeat to victory in Iraq. John Lewis, at the Edmund Pettus bridge. Meg Whitman, the CEO of

WARREN: We’ve had a lot of leaders, because of weaknesses, stumbled, had become ineffective, what’s been your greatest moral failure, and of America.

MCCAIN: They don’t get any easier (laughter). My greatest moral failing, and I have been a very imperfect person, is the failure of my first marriage. I think America’s greatest moral failure, is that perhaps through our existence, we have not devoted ourselves greater than our self-interest, though we’ve been the best at it. Instead of telling people, after 9/11 to go shopping, take a trip, we should have told America to join the Peace Corps, expand the…serve a cause greater than your self interest.

WARREN: You know that a lot of good legislation dies because of partisan politics,…can you give me an example where you led against your party’s interest, and maybe even against your own best interest for the good of America.

MCCAIN: By a coincidence, I was not voted again Ms.Congeniality, Climate Change, Out of Control Spending, Torture, on a large number of issues, that I’ve reached across the ailse. One of the times, was when I was first a member of congress, and very loyal and dedicated to Regan who is one of the great great Presidents who won the cold war without firing a shot, in the words of Margaret THatcher. My background told me that a few hundred marines told me that they could not compete… I went against the President I believed in, very early in my political career.

WARREN: Verse in the Bible search for ideas. What is the most significant position you’ve held 10 years ago that you don’t hold today. Give me an example of something that happened 10 years ago…

MCCAIN: Offshore drilling…we’ve got to drill here, drill now, and we’ve got to stop being dependent on foreign oil. We’re spending $700 billion a year to be sent to countries that don’t like us very much, that are going to … We’ve got to do everything, and we have to have nuclear power in order to reduce green house gasses and save on our energy costs. By the way, the French, 80% of their energy is from nuclear…and we have a pro-American President of France, which shows that if you live long enough…

WARREN: What is the most gut-wrenching decision you’ve had to make, and what was the process you had to make.

MCCAIN: My father was a high ranking admiral. The prisioners… you only leave by order of capture. And I wasn’t in good physical shape, but I was in bad physical shape. I said “no.” Now, in the interest of full-disclosure, I didn’t know that the war was going to last 3 years more. Go back to your cell, it’s going to be very tough on you now. And it was. Not only the most difficult decision I made, but the most happy decision I ever made in my entire life. It took a lot of prayer.

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WARREN: These are heartland questions from all over America, and no matter how you answer them, someone is going to not like them. How does faith work out in your life on a daily basis.

MCCAIN: It means I’m saved and forgiven, and that encompasses not just America, but the entire world. One of the techniques they use is to keep you in a position, all of a sudden the door opened, the gun guard, then he loosed the ropes. He came back 4 hours later, tightened them up again, and left. We were allowed to stand outside our cell. I was standing outside the cell, he came walking up, and he stood there for a minute, drew a cross, a minute later, rubbed it out. For a minute there. It was just two Christians there worshipping together.

WARREN: Abortion. I was a pastor… What point is a baby entitled to rights.

MCCAIN: At the moment of conception (applause). I have a 25 year pro-life record in the Congress, Senate, and as President of the United States, I will have pro-life policies.

WARREN: Define marriage.

MCCAIN: A union between one man and one woman. That’s my definition of marriage. When we speak of the i

WARREN: We’ve got Proposition 8, because the court overturned the definition of marriage. Was the California state wrong.

MCCAIN: I’m a Federalist, I believe each state has the right to make that decision. That doesn’t mean that people can’t have the rights of all citizens. I think we should preserve the rights. I think the states should make their own decisions.

WARREN: Stem-cells. Would you favor or oppose the federal funding of stem cells.

MCCAIN: I’ve come down on the stem-cells. I’m hoping the skin cell.

WARREN: Does evil exist, ignore it, negotiate it.

MCCAIN: Defeat it. Couple points. One, if I’m President of the United States, if I will get Osama Bin Laden. Of course evil should be … we are facing. Al Quaeda when … we are winning succeeding, in honor and not in defeat. And that’s what’s happening. And we face this threat throughout the world. My friends, we must face this challenge, we can face this challenge, and we can totally defeat it. But when I’m around the young men and women in uniform, I have no doubt.

WARREN: Leadership is stewardship not ownership. The courts. Which existing Supreme Court justices would you not have nominated.

MCCAIN: Justice Ginsberg, Fryer, Suitor, Stevens. I think that the President of the United States has a tremendous responsibility. There will be two or maybe three vacancies. This nomination should be based on the criteria of a proven work of upholding the constitution

WARREN: Faith based organizations. The Civil Rights act of 1964.

MCCAIN: Absolutely not, and if you did it would cripple the work of those fiath-based organizations.

WARREN: Education. American ranks 19th in high school graduations, first in incarcerations. Everyone says, merit pay for the best teachers.

MCCAIN: Yes, yes, and find bad teachers another line of work. Choice and competition, homeschooling, charter schools. I want every American family to have the same choice that we had…to send our children to the school of our choice. This works. Thousands of people in Washington D.C. that are applying. New York City is reforming. We now have over 30 charter schools in New Orleans. It’s a simple principle, but it’s going to take dedicated men and women. It’s all based, and it’s proven that choice and competition. And its’ the civil rights issue of the 21st century. But what kind of opportunity is it if you send them to a failing school. That’s why we’ve got to give them the same opportunity and choice.

WARREN: On taxes, define rich. Give me a number, where do you move from middle class to rich?

MCCAIN: Some of the richest people I’ve known are the most unhappy. I think rich should be defined by a home, a good job, an education, and the ability to hand to our children a more prosperous nation. I don’t want to take any money from the rich, class warfare, … let’s keep taxes low. Let’s give them a tax credit, so that they can get the health care of their choice. Let’s not make the government. How about $5 million? Seriously, the point is, that we want to keep people taxes low, and increase revenues. It was not taxes that mattered in the years, it was spending. We spent money in ways that mortgaged our kids’ futures. We spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana, now I don’t know if that was paternal or criminal, … Congress we went … It doesn’t matter what my definition of rich is, it really doesn’t. I don’t want to raise taxes. American’s all across America…my friends, we’ve got to give them hope and confidence in the future. I can inspire them, I can lead, and I know the best days are ahead of us.

WARREN: When does our right to privacy and our right to security collide?

MCCAIN: It does collide. We have now had technological advances in communications that are remarkable. So we have to keep up with that capability. There’s too many ways. Through cyperspace, people are able to communicate. We have to step up our ability to monitor those. Inside the United States and out. We need judiciary laws and at the same time, it’s an example of our failure of our Congress to reach …

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WARREN: America’s responsibility in the world.  As an American, what is worth dying for,

MCCAIN: Freedom, our national security, our security as a nation. Wars have started in obscure places that have enveloped us. We must … we can’t right every wrong, but we can be a beacon of hope in the world. So there are conflicts that we can’t settle. The m ost precious asset we have is American blood. And throughout history, we’ve gone to all four corners of the earth and shed that blood. We won the cold war without firing a shot.

WARREN: What would be the critera, genocide, Darfur, mass killings in Georga.

MCCAIN: Our obligation is to stop genocide. The women are taking charge of the future of Rwanda because they’re saying, never again. Darfur, our Secretary of State called genocide, the question is how can we stop it. We’ve got to marshall our forces all over the world to stop it. Our supplying the logistics and the aid, and the personel for cease fire. WE’ve got to be committed to never saying never again, again.

WARREN: Georgia and Poland.

MCCAIN: I’m very sad to be here to talk about the Russian reemergence to dominate that part of the world. Villages are being burned, … it was one of the earliest Christian nations, converted to Christianity. The President, the man who was educated went back to Georgia, had democracy and prosperity, and now the Russians are coming in there in an act of aggression. And we have to not only bring about cease fire, but we have to have honored one of the fundamental rights of any nation, territorial integrity. There’s two other aspects, don’t think it wasn’t an accident, the Presidents of … because they all have something in common. Second, it’s about energy. Up until then… Let’s get the humanitarian aide to them as quick as possible. That this behavior is not acceptable in the 21st century.

WARREN: Religious persecution. What would you do, in your administration, to put pressure on Chinese and Iraq, etc.

MCCAIN: The President’s greatest asset is the bully pulpit.

WARREN: 148 million orphans…

MCCAIN: I think we have to make adoption a lot easier in this country. That’s why so many go to other countries. Teddy Roosevelt was the first modern president to talk about. 17 years ago, Cindy was in Dakah, Bangledesh, the nuns brought her two little babies that were not going to live, met me at the airport, and said, meet your new daughter. She’s now 17, and our life is blessed.

WARREN: Why do you…

MCCAIN: I want to inspire a generation of Americans that are their best interests… I want to make sure tha everyone understands that this is a time for us to come together. America wants optimism. I have a record of working across the aisle, working with the other party, and I want to do that. I want every American to know, when I go, I know my job is that I’ll be the President of every American, and I’ll always put my country first.

WARREN: What would you say to people who oppose me asking you this…

MCCAIN: I want to be in every venue. Our country was founded on Judeo-Christian values. I want to be here, I’m honored to be here.

We have to learn how to have civility in our debates. How to have a discussion and a debate, because we all want America to be a better place.