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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Notes on Saddleback

The unusual event Saturday night wherein Rick Warren of the Saddleback megachurch quizzed Barack Obama and John McCain on a variety of “values” issues has generally been rated as a win for McCain. That may turn out to be a premature assessment.
Yes, in terms of the event itself, McCain did very well, wowing the largely conservative audience with clear expressions of very conservative positions nicely complemented with anecdotes. But in doing so, he staked out positions that are less than ideal in terms of the broader audience of undecided general election voters.
There’s no question that McCain’s objective Saturday night was to solidify his conservative base and remove any doubt about his hard-line commitment to the agenda of the Christian Right. Indeed, if there was a secondary audience he had in mind, it was conservatives generally, as witnessed by his very revealing insistence on sneaking in a reference to “the secret ballot in union elections” while rambling through an answer to a question about privacy rights. This is code for conservative opposition to “card-check” legislation that would allow unions to be certified on submission of statements of support from a majority of employees in a given workplace.
Obama certainly could have been crisper and less defensive in some of his answers. But with the immediate audience, and perhaps with other voters who have heard that he’s a hard-core lefty, he earned a lot of brownie points simply by showing up on “enemy turf.” And his issue-positioning was a lot closer to national opinion than McCain’s.
Moreover, McCain will never again obtain a format and issue-landscape so favorable to him. Aside from the conservative framing of many questions (e.g., “When does a baby become entitled to human rights?”), the “character” questions teed him up for his favorite anecdotes about his POW experience. There were virtually no questions about the economy, and McCain was able to say some preposterous things, particularly about Iraq, without being challenged.
The bottom line is that McCain may have won the battle of Saddleback, but the war’s another matter.

One comment on “Notes on Saddleback

  1. BVA on

    If Obama’s strategists, consultants, pollsters, debate prep people, and managers had not yet developed an effective answer to the most obvious, the most likely, and the most important question, ABORTION — then why did they allow him to appear for questioning at an evangelical religious forum (Saddleback)?
    Is this malpractice or simple incompetence?
    Is Drew Westen really right (in his book) about the Democratic consultants lack of professional qualifications especially knowledge of the scientific literature that describes how political persuasion works?
    Would the title of Amy Sullivan’s 2005 “Washington Monthly” article, ‘Fire All the Consultants!’ be more effective for the Democratic Party if interpreted literally and not just figuratively?


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