With the Olympics, NFL Preseason football, and whatnot, it's a surprise many people knew about Saturday's Faith Forum, yet alone watched it. Definitely not a debate, and not quite a townhall meeting, this "discussion on matters of faith" was hosted by Pastor Rick Warren. It was also the first time Cotton Hill and Barry blessed the same stage, albeit briefly. The format was simple. Each candidate held court solo with Warren for an hour and was asked the same series of basic questions about faith, and time permitting, a handful of other questions submitted by members of Warren's Saddleback Church, and via email.
Barack Obama went first, and in my opinion showed his strengths and weaknesses. On the bright side, he was extremely well composed and did a good job of answering most questions. He seemed well prepared. He wasn't nervous, didn't flub his words like he sometimes does in debates, and was very transparent and honest with his answers. He talked candidly about his relationship with God, views on abortion, gay marriage, and other core issues of conservatism. He seemed to speak his own personal opinion, rather than make an underhanded attempt to pander to the audience. He was sometimes lighthearted, but seemed to give the forum, and the issues the reverence they deserved.
John McCain followed him, and the contrasts couldn't have been more pronounced. True to his "Straight Talk" ethos, McCain dove right into every question, sometimes rudely interrupting Warren before he was even able to finish posing them. His answers showed either an economy of words, or a lack thereof. I can't really figure out which. He used the phrase "my friends" about 198,224 times. He cracked jokes, which allowed him to gloss over his views on certain issues. Faith based questions always seemed to somehow lead back to answers involving his time in the military. He was clearly talking the the audience, whereas Obama seemed to be talking with Warren in front of an audience. He was clearly in his element, and every answer he spouted was straight from the Pandering To Conservatives: 101 textbook.
My final verdict may confuse you, but I thought McCain "won" this forum. Not because his answers were better, because they by and large were not. He found ways of completely glossing over some of this weak points (ie: flip flopping, the definition of "rich", and his failed first marriage), and Warren didn't bother digging deeper so he got a pass. Obama's penchant for using 200 words where 20 would suffice, versus McCain's sometimes terse responses ("At conception. Period!) made Obama appear more studious and thoughtful. But you and I both know political debates aren't about studious and thoughtful answers. They're about direct replies and generating soundbytes, and this seemingly is something Obama still doesn't fully comprehend.
Many members of AverageNation™ have noted that Obama should bury McCain during this Fall's debates by virtue of physical appearance (5-9 vs 6-3, the contrast onstage Saturday was stifling), natural charisma, his rockstar stage presence, and most importantly, his stance on the issues. That may all be true, but unless Obama understands that people simply want an answer, not a dissertation, he could find himself on the losing end of a few more of these before all's said and done.
Why? Because America by and large is not a nation of scholars. For the most part, this is a country full of idiots, many of whom still think Obama is a Muslim, and more of whom don't think he's trustworthy. The media plays it's part in perpetuating these issues (12 weeks of Rebb'n Wright), but Obama needs to be more publicly assertive about dispelling them, and eliminating these issues as excuses for these "common Americans" to not vote for him, although he stance on nearly every issue is vastly superior to McCain's. Simply put, he needs to learn how to dumb it down. McCain, perhaps by virtue of experience with Presidential politricks, perhaps due to lack of depth (dude did finish 894th out of 899 at the US Naval Academy), understands this fully.
Barry, take note.
Question: Did you see the Faith Forum? What were your general impressions? What does Obama need to do to improve his debate performance?
Obama, McCain at Saddleback faith forum give debate preview. [Chicago Sun-Times]
 BTW, I think Andrea Mitchell is out of her mind. I don't believe that McCain knew the questions before he took the stage. He's been answering the same b.s. "conservative" questions for years. He didn't cheat.