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His to lose

"His to lose" Continued...

Issue: "Two-ring circus," Sept. 6, 2008

Doing that for one evening, in one setting, is one thing. Neither candidate at Saddleback, for 120 minutes, took a swipe at the other. But influencing the tone of a whole campaign is another, much harder assignment. The fruit of genuine kindness takes time to mature.

Warren did tell me, in a conversation the afternoon after the big event, that the "identical questions" format-something that won Warren wide praise-constrained him in ways he regretted. "Every bone in my body wanted to go, 'Yeah but, yeah but' in a follow-up mode . . . and to spend the next 30 minutes on each issue." But then he would have ended up asking each candidate different questions-something he had pledged not to do.

4. So in the end, should the American public expect evangelicals to be a front for the Republican Party?

To the contrary, many sectors of the media gave high marks to Warren and his moderation of the forum. Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, writing in The New York Times, said: "With all due respect to Jim Lehrer, Tom Brokaw, and Bob Schieffer-the somewhat nondiverse group selected by the debate commission as the three presidential debate moderators-one of them should step aside for Warren."

Indeed, Warren pointed out in our interview that almost everyone's guess prior to the event was that Obama was likely to profit most from it. "Obama is good at talking about issues of faith," Warren told me. But, he added, "I had no idea that John would be that good." And then: "John's answer, when I asked about what's your greatest moral sin, he blew everybody away, and he went right to the point [when] he said, 'The failure of my first marriage,' paused, teared up, and went for the next question. . . . He's not of the Oprah generation that spills out all the details. There was a 72-year-old man being honest in the way he was taught to be honest."

"Now, both of these guys, I look at Obama as the-how to say it-the thoughtful consensus builder. He's a constitutional attorney, so he's got all these nuances. John is a straightforward happy warrior. Yes, yes, no, and get 'em out of here! I wanted to fall out of my seat when he gave that education answer."

Whatever his personal opinions are, Warren did not want to push a particular candidate: "I just wanted for the people of God, and His church, to look good." He refused to be suckered into dividing the discussion into "secular" and "spiritual" compartments or to allow for the "values" category. Everything is on Rick Warren's agenda, and that may be the reason even some secularists are looking to this evangelical leader for their cues.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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