The "civil forum" featuring presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain may not have been as exciting as Michael Phelps winning his eighth Olympic gold medal, but it was civil and it was a forum from which emerged useful information.
McCain had the most to gain. Judging by the applause, he won the night among evangelical voters. He told them what they wanted to hear: He would be a pro-life president with "pro-life policies." He believes the unborn have human rights "from the moment of conception," that marriage is between a man and a woman and that the California Supreme Court was wrong to strike down the state's existing statutes, limiting marriage to opposite sex couples. "I'm a federalist," he said, but added that if the federal courts start forcing one state to accept rulings on same-sex "marriage" from another state, he would then favor a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between opposite sex couples. McCain said he would allow "contracts" between same-sex couples.
McCain also gave the strongest answer on the theological concept of evil. He said his approach to evil would be to "defeat it." Speaking of Osama bin Laden, to get him he said, "I would follow him to the gates of hell," which might be easier than following him to the mountains of Pakistan.
Asked to define "rich," McCain offered a mini-sermon, noting that "some of the rich" are "the most unhappy," adding that he doesn't want to take from the rich; rather he wants "everybody to get rich." He opposes "redistribution" - a code word for higher taxes - proposes a $7,000 tax credit for every child and health care choice. In contrast to Obama, McCain said that spending is the reason for the deficit, not taxes that are too low and he ridiculed a $3 million earmark to study the DNA of bears to underscore his point.
Obama did himself some good among evangelicals by giving them the bottom line for their faith: "I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins and I am redeemed through him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis."
Obama and others on the evangelical left see government, not individuals or the church, as the instrument by which the commands of Jesus are implemented. In such a doctrinal interpretation, government serves as a kind of "lesser God," intruding on believers and their commission to do good works, as a means of sharing the gospel message, and concentrating not on the message, but on the implementation of the work itself, which only helps in this life, not the next.
Obama's faith tells him nothing about human life (knowing when a baby acquires human rights is "above my pay grade," he said).
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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