Thursday, September 11, 2008

John McCain and Barack Obama at the Saddleback Presidential Candidates Forum with Rick Warren

On August 17, 2008, presidential candidates Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) met separately with Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church in California [Transcript: CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL: Saddleback Presidential Candidates Forum]. In the event -- titled the "Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency" -- Warren questioned each of them on political, moral, and religious matters.

The following is an analysis of some of McCain and Obama's statements:

WARREN: At what point does a baby get human rights, in your view?
OBAMA: Well, you know, I think that whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade.

Comment: Obama is right to say that judging when a baby, fetus, or unborn child gets human rights -- more generally, when they acquire moral standing -- is a difficult issue. And many of us might never encounter a situation where we need to have an answer to this question. But, if Obama becomes president, it's likely that he's going to have to take a stand on this issue in some way or another. If he's not going to do so, he should at least give some reason why it won't be necessary for him to do so as president (or even as a senator). Obama went on to assert that he supported Roe v. Wade and was pro-choice, so it's fair to expect him to outline how his position on abortion squares with the matter of the human rights and moral standing of the life that is being aborted.


WARREN: Have you ever voted to limit or reduce abortions?
OBAMA: I am in favor, for example, of limits on late-term abortions, if there is an exception for the mother's health. From the perspective of those who are pro-life, I think they would consider that inadequate, and I respect their views. One of the things that I've always said is that on this particular issue, if you believe that life begins at conception, then -- and you are consistent in that belief, then I can't argue with you on that, because that is a core issue of faith for you. What I can do is say, are there ways that we can work together to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, so that we actually are reducing the sense that women are seeking out abortions. And as an example of that, one of the things that I've talked about is how do we provide the resources that allow women to make the choice to keep a child. You know, have we given them the health care that they need? Have we given them the support services that they need? Have we given them the options of adoption that are necessary? That can make a genuine difference.

Comment: Obama doesn't answer the question, which was about whether he has a past history of voting to limit abortions. Instead, he talks about things that he WOULD do in the future.


OBAMA: Our politics is broken and Washington is so broken, that we can't bring together people of goodwill to solve these common problems. I think I have the ability to build bridges across partisan lines, racial, regional lines to get people to work on some common sense solutions to critical issues and I hope that I have the opportunity to do that.

Comment: Obama is making a fairly standard appeal to unite the country, here. But he doesn't explain how he would do so. If people have different moral priorities, how is he going to get them to agree on difficult moral issues?


WARREN: Let me ask you this: What would be the criteria for which you would commit troops to...
MCCAIN: American national security interests are threatened.
WARREN: ... I understand that, but what about like genocide in Darfur, or if mass killings took place in Georgia?
MCCAIN: Our obligation is to stop genocide wherever we can. We all know about Rwanda. No one knows that better than you and the Saddleback Church who have been so active. By the way, Cindy was just there with Mike Huckabee and Dr. Bill Frist and have seen what the women of Rwanda are doing. The women are taking charge of the future of Rwanda because they're saying "Never again," and they are doing an incredible job. Darfur our most respected former Secretary of State Colin Powell called genocide some years ago. The question is how can we effectively stop it? And obviously we've got to do more, and we've got to try to marshal the forces all over the world to join us. I think one of the things we ought to explore more carefully is us supplying the logistics and equipment and the aid, and the African countries step forward with the personnel to enforce a genuine cease- fire. It's a very complicated situation, as you know, but we've got to be committed to never saying "never again" again.

Comment: McCain doesn't answer the question, which concerned what circumstances would prompt him to send U.S. troops to stop genocide.


WARREN: Now, we've got a couple minutes left in this section. Here's a security question I didn't get to with Senator Obama. We didn't have enough time. When is our right to privacy, when our right to privacy and our right to national security collide?
MCCAIN: It does...
WARREN: How do you decide what takes precedent?
MCCAIN: It does collide, and there are always competing priorities. We must preserve the privacy of all of our citizens as much as possible because that is one of the fundamental and basic rights we have -- and, by the way, including a secret ballot for union organizers, a secret ballot, not a ballot that someone comes around and signs you up. That's a different subject, but the point is that we have now had technological advances over the last 20 or 30 years in communications that are remarkable. It is remarkable ability that our enemies have to communicate, so we have to keep up with that capability. I mean, there are too many ways -- through cyberspace and through other ways -- that people are able to communicate with one another. So we are going to have to step up our capabilities to monitor those. Sometimes there are calls from outside the United States, inside the United States. There are all kinds of communications of every different kind. So you need Congress to work together. You need a judiciary that will review these laws that we pass; and at the same time, it's just an example of our failure to sit down, Republican and Democrat, and work these things out together for the good of the nation's security instead of this constant fighting, which, according to our director of national intelligence, until we finally reached an agreement not long ago, was compromising our ability to keep America from attack. And so, there is a constant tension; it is changing with changes in technology, and we have to stay up with it.

Comment: Again, McCain doesn't answer the question. He agrees that there is a conflict -- a dilemma -- between the moral priorities of privacy and safety, but he doesn't spell out how we choose between them.


MCCAIN: America wants hope. America wants optimism. America wants us to sit down together. I have a record of reaching across the aisle and working with the other party, and I want to do that, and I believe, as I said, that Americans feel it is time for us to put our country first.

Comment: Like Obama, McCain is making a standard call for uniting the country. And, like Obama, he does little to spell out exactly HOW he would do so given that many Americans have different moral priorities.

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