Essay / Politics

The Candidate and the President: Rachel Motte Reports from Saddleback

Rachel Motte reporting from Saddleback:

I’ve been amused by recent speculations that Barack Obama may be the antichrist. After Saturday’s candidate forum at Saddleback Church, I think we can safely say that he isn’t. That would be too far above his pay grade.

Rick Warren is also not the antichrist, though the numerous outcries against him online before the event may have lead some to suspect otherwise. Most will know better now.

And John McCain? He is authentically himself, unmoved by public perception and uniquely unchanged by his candidacy.

Warren could easily have made himself the highlight of the Saddleback event, but he didn’t. He could have easily asked safe questions designed to make his audience love him, but he didn’t. He asked his questions, left very little “wiggle room” for his guests, and neatly stepped out of the spotlight. It was nicely done.

Despite repeated assurances to the press that Warren would stay away from issues-based questions in this forum, he hammered out direct and difficult questions about such issues as abortion, marriage, taxes, and stem cell research without hesitation or compromise. His direct, no-nonsense wording gave the silver-tongued Obama pause, despite the friendly tone in which the questions were asked. If Obama stumbles when answering a jolly and welcoming Rick Warren, I cringe to imagine how he’d do as President when faced with less hospitable interrogators. I have no such fears about John McCain, who had no difficulty in conversing with Mr. Warren. This event was clearly easier for him than for Mr. Obama.

I fully expected Obama to dominate the evening. This was the sort of event that Obama and his brand (for he has been marketed as a brand) have been molded for. His easy-going demeanor and impressive rhetorical skills are ideally suited to this format, often leaving the less polished but more authentic McCain at something of a disadvantage.

I was wrong. Obama’s distinct failure to answer most of Warren’s questions looked shoddy and unprofessional when compared to McCain’s short and direct answers. While Obama gave long, rambling responses and even admitted his inability to answer the abortion question, McCain’s every answer seemed to challenge Warren, as if he were thinking, ‘That was hard? Is that the best you’ve got?’

Obama is polished (though much less so at this event), but McCain is Real. The generation raised on myspace and youtube may be largely unable to make this distinction, but time will show them that Obama’s digital flair cannot compare to McCain’s real-life experience and convictions.

Mr. Obama has talked at length in previous forums about his ability to bring people together. In reality this means that he has an inability to displease his audience. He needs to be liked. This is useful in a candidate, but fatal in a President. He excels in the art of sounding good while saying little, and his refusal to take a firm stance on almost anything in this forum will not help him gain the vote of those who were actually listening.

John McCain has no such qualms. He is well-known for being unafraid of what people think of him. This is not always a desirable quality in a candidate, but it is absolutely necessary in a President. Let Obama remain a candidate for a few more years—he’s good at it. John McCain, on the other hand, is ready to be President.

Rachel Motte serves as the Political Links Editor for She has interned in Morton Blackwell’s office at the Leadership Institute and in former Congressman Jim Ryun’s office on Capitol Hill. She is a graduate of Biola University, the Torrey Honors Institute, numerous Leadership Institute schools, and has been a student at the World Journalism Institute. She blogs at .

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