Live-Blogging Saddleback - Obama

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8. 57 pm. I don't retract anything about my concern that the first debate of sorts should be held in a church. But actually this forum so far was in no way offensive to secular values. It did not demand adherence to any religious doctrine and debated moral issues in terms that reflected faith but didn't exclude the faithless. Kudos to Warren.

8.56 pm. "I want people to know me well." "We will get the president we need." There's a strange calm to the guy, a self-distancing that isn't simply aloofness. Maybe it's faith.

8.54 pm. His basic pitch: to build bridges. To restore empathy.

8.52 pm. Finally, Obama mentions torture. Why has Rick Warren not mentioned this? Is it not incumbent on a government to police itself morally before it seeks to solve every wound on God's earth. He has cited any number of moral issues, but not the transcendent moral issue as it relates to the direct actions of the current administration.

8.50 pm. "Enormous credit" to Bush for PEPFAR.

8.42 pm. Man, he can even talk me into higher taxes. Here's how: he actually makes a simple case that we cannot have something for nothing. I get that. I know that. Of course, if all the federal government were doing were good schools and good roads, most of us would not be whining. And, of course, the little rant against complexity and loopholes cannot do him any harm.

So far, this is a masterful performance. Having watched nothing but ads and soundbites and speeches for the past few weeks, I'd forgotten a little bit what a class act he can be.

8.34 pm. What a great moment in the history of race relations that a black presidential candidate can say that he would not have nominated Clarence Thomas - because he wasn't qualified enough! And, of course, I'm relieved that he takes issue with John Roberts' view of executive power.

8.31 pm. Humility in the fight against evil? What a lovely change of pace. And the notion that a presidential candidate can actually say that we can do evil even as we think we are pursuing good ratchets the quality of presidential discourse up a universe or two on or current incumbent.

8.28 pm. Marriage: Obama makes the critical distinction between civil and religious institutions. But he and Warren duck the issue. The question is equality in the civil sphere. Warren opposes that equality; Obama favors it. And Obama sees that civil equality as compatible with Christianity. It is, of course. But what was depressing is the refusal of both men to speak of gay people as such, explicitly and clearly. Remember "the least of my brethren"?

8.21 pm. The egoist: "If I get out of the way," God will help him. He doesn't seem like the celebrity big-head we've been hearing a lot about, does he?

8.12 pm. I wonder how those who still argue that Obama is a flaming leftist react to his citing of Lugar and Nunn as two foreign policy experts he'd listen to. Or that welfare reform is an issue on which he has changed his mind - to favor the Clinton reform.

8.10 pm. The first two people Obama spoke of as advisers were women.

8.05 pm. I find the Scriptural introductions a little much, but so far, Rick Warren hasn't gotten too holy-roller on us, and has allowed an open conversation beyond sectarian or religious boundaries. Obama's facility with religious discourse is quite obvious. The reference to Matthew was effortless, and his call for America to serve "the least of my brothers" a big hit with the crowd - and will resonate with evangelicals.

(Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty.)

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