Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Law Professor vs. the Fighter Pilot

I met the news of the so-called "Saddleback Showdown", a question and answer session with the two presidential candidates hosted by Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lakeforest California last night (Saturday) with a jaundiced eye. But despite Pastor Warren's shaky (from my point of view) theology, and his worrisome (to me) coziness with the Left, his "Civil Forum on the Presidency" was a signal instance of what a truly good-faith attempt to ask straight-up questions from the candidates and let them speak their own words, unhurried and unharried, looks like. It is a modern American political first, and a much needed dose of political hygiene.

I am much amused thinking how the mainstream news outfits looking in must be gnashing their teeth that not only was this extravaganza shown on the hated and boycotted Fox News Channel (remember the righteous posturing on the Left a year ago?), but that an untrained, unqualified, non-member of the elite journo tribe managed to kick off the general election campaign in such a winsome, transparent and clarifying way. Tearing of robes and hair must surely have followed hard on the teeth gnashing as they realized what every other viewer realized: that an actual attempt at "fair and balanced" is not only necessary, but, since it rewards the audience with the assumption of a modicum of intelligence, is more attractive than the embarrassing and ridiculous little game shows they had produced earlier and tried to pass off as "debates".

Warren's position atop his highly successful church/business empire gave him the credibility and the weight to make this a venue attractive to the candidates seeking national office. His relaxed manner, though informed by the "California casual" milieu surrounding him, flows I think more from the confidence that follows from a genuine belief in Redemption--his own and the possibility for everyone else's. It must be galling for the credentialed professionals looking on to have control of the "narrative", as their hip postmodern posturing styles it, loosened from their grip by an evident purveyor of fanciful fictions like a Christian minister. They want their fanciful fictions purveyed!

I expect a good bit of embarrassed silence from the drive-bys regarding this turning point in our political culture. This event was a breath of fresh air, the sunlit uplands compared to the fetid swamp of partisan, hand-on-the-scales fakery the media star hair-do's have been trying to pass off as politically serious discourse for so long. There were no gotcha moments, and no expectations of any; both candidates expected a fair deal, and got it. And Warren displayed none of the pompousness and affected seriousness of the television anchors whose sole aim, aside from unmasking the Republican as the spawn of Satan, is to be sensational themselves.

One reason we have not seen a format anything like this one, where both candidates were separately asked identical questions, straight-up and without trap doors, is the evident disadvantage to the Democrat candidate. No Democrat candidate for the presidency can afford to tell the truth about what the party stands for. Except for the bi-coastal sophisticates, the captured minorities, and the Soros Inc/Huffpo/Daily Kos crowd, Democrats have to fake being moderate or right of center to get elected. They know that the bitter clingers of America do not agree with unrestricted abortion, Euro-style foreign policy and appeasement, anti-capitalist taxation and regulation, or the penchant for socializing huge swaths of the economy. Theirs is a stealth platform, revealed only in moments of exuberance by the likes of Maxine Waters, holding forth from the absolute security of life tenured, gerrymandered offices. And that leads to my second point--the total contrast the honest and transparent format brought to light between Obama and McCain.

Obama's performance was his usual stuttering, punch-pulling, stated advisedly, on the one hand but on the other sort of nuanced sophisticated glibness he is known for. To me it contrasted badly with McCain, who was stiffer and less comfortable to begin with, but who most definitely had the look of a man with the courage of his convictions. McCain's unequivocal answers, offered without hesitation in most instances, ultimately showed a man much more comfortable being on the receiving end of pointed questions because he did not (in this instance anyway) feel the need to not offend fence sitters or those on the other side. Obama's answers, as always, show him looking both ways, calibrating, adjusting, his mind racing ahead in those frequent silences and stutterings, to gauge the sound of what he is about to say so as to preserve his self-presentation as a blank canvas, upon which each hearer can project his own meaning--the essence of postmodern hermeneutics. The utility to a politician in Obama's position of being able to pull this off is apparent; but in an open and fair format like the Saddleback Showdown, the slipperiness of the technique sticks out in broad outline and is seen for what it is. The contrast on the abortion question--when does a baby begin to have human rights? was the starkest. Obama punted, knowing his truthful answer--when the adult female in question says so--would not down well in that venue. In addition, his bloated non-answer to the terrible condition of public education showed the same recognition on his part that the left-leaning union thugs he is in bed with were listening closely to every word. Not one of his left-liberal constituencies could have been happy with what they heard from Obama; their only solace is in knowing that like the Clintons, Obama has a mask for every occasion, and that when speaking publicly, it is always and only a mask.

If Rick Warren's obvious and elegant model for public discussion becomes the default, the Democrats will be the losers. The vacuity of the lofty and fanciful fictions Obama has been peddling does not compare favorably to the solidity of the feet on the ground grittiness offered by McCain. The affectations of the law professor look lightweight and unaffordable when contrasted so directly to the leadership quotient of the fighter pilot.

Who do you want in charge when the barbarians are at the gates?

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