Huffpost Politics
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Christy Hardin Smith Headshot

Obama, McCain And Rick Warren: Calculations At The Intersection Of Faith And Power

Posted: Updated:

On Saturday, Rick Warren will host a forum with Barack Obama and John McCain billed as a discussion on character and values. What is intriguing is the intersection of faith with the scramble for power among Warren's supporters and detractors within the evangelical and wingnut power broker communities.

Some commentary has gotten quite shrill: at the Corner, hysterical claims that Obama supports killing live birth babies if their mother ever thought about abortion; and RedState demands an all-or-nothing abortion question from Warren or else cancel the event (I'm sure Warren is shaking in his pews), while the debate continues to rage over what Obama and McCain and their parties actually think about abortion and "family values."

The funniest though comes from David Waters at On Faith, who frets that pastors shouldn't be involved in political events. Geez louise, where has he been since the Reagan Administration? Runner-up just may be Sally Quinn's request that Warren ask the candidates about compromising values to attain power and prominence. (Pot, this is kettle.)

Word is that Warren will be asking both candidates about their "personal lives."

Warren told ABC News that adultery is an issue voters want to know about from presidential candidates. Wonder what Pastor Warren thinks about volunteering your wife for a topless beauty pageant? Apparently the minister who officiated at Jenna Bush's wedding gave that McCain stunt a thumbs down.

That could be...um...a lively segment with John McCain.

Meanwhile, the old-style evangelical leadership plays the "we are too still relevant" card by hosting their own "values summit" the same day as the Warren campaign event. But even they aren't exactly overcome with McCain zeal:

Engle admits that the press conference and rally on the mall are designed to counter the Warren candidate interviews, which he predicted would be more politically correct and focus more on "what the church is for rather than what it is against."

Engle, a vehement opponent of abortion rights, said the goal of the rally on the mall is to "drive the issue of abortion like a wedge into the soul of the nation."...

"I don't trust John McCain," Engle said....

Given that McCain once called them "agents of intolerance," all the current kowtowing in the world isn't going to erase that public snub during the 2000 campaign given the egos involved, but McCain's advisors have been trying to weave a "what's in it for you" delicate negotiations dance behind the scenes with many of these leaders.

However, McCain's recent hints he won't guarantee a pro-life Veep isn't going to put those doubts to rest. For them, the only issues are abortion and gays. To heck with poverty, peace, or the Golden Rule. Guess you can't successfully fundraise on "love they neighbor" alone -- it must not poll well among the fire and brimstone brigades.

But there are clouds on the megachurch horizons, with a lot of the flock feeling fleeced -- dropping out of politics altogether, suffering from "fetus fatigue" and feeling burned by manipulative promises that never came to pass.

Add in increasing debate over the "God gap," with two new polls -- from Pew and Barna -- showing higher Christian support for Obama over McCain overall:

...Obama leads among 17 of 18 faith groups. True enough, and if that holds, that would be very good news for Obama.

But the study also showed Obama has been slipping noticeably with key groups:

During the past two months, Sen. Obama's lead has eroded substantially among non-evangelical born again Christians (a decline of nine points); active Christians (a 20-point drop); Protestants (down 13 points); and Catholics (down 11 points).

Notably, these folks do not seem to be going to McCain. Barna reports that McCain's support among evangelicals has dropped from 78% to 61%

Indications are strong that younger religious voters registering to vote as Democrats this year, which fits within the trend of younger voters overall as well. Those who haven't switched political affiliation are feeling drawn to Obama's broader campaign message of social justice for "the least of these" as opposed to McCain's old school "abortion boogah boogah" approach, which some are openly mocking.

Obama has been doing significant outreach to religious communities of all stripes, with some success. But his actions are not without their detractors.

And Rick Warren isn't exactly a crowd favorite among progressives, either, especially given some of his anti-gay rhetoric through the years. So the big questions are why Obama chose this particular event, what demographic he's trying to pull in with it -- and what he risks in terms of alienation among some supporters. How will McCain try to work this to his advantage? And what's really in this for Rick Warren?

It's going to be interesting to watch the debate after the debate, so to speak.

What I'd like to see is a question on how the McCain camp is fighting back by slyly insinuating Obama might be the antichrist. Lest you think I'm kidding about the "antichrist" insinuations, CNN has now picked up the story.  Purely in the interests of journimalism, I'm sure.  Nothing like an ad cooked up by Ralph Reed pal Fred Davis which was just meant in good fun with no underlying manipulative message for the paranoid among us.

McCain has also been dispatching aides to churches nationwide to talk about Obama in less-than-Christian charity, including a recent viral e-mail campaign purportedly from a former Billy Graham team stalwart Bill Brown which not shockingly turned out to be an utter fabrication.

Last I heard, bearing false witness was still a sin, right?

To top it off, on Monday libertarian candidate Bob Barr -- who is excluded from the Warren forum -- had a private meeting at the HQ of James Dobson.

Barr, Verney said, "had a great meeting and discussion with them.

"I think it's no secret that a lot of the more conservative Republicans have doubts about Sen. John McCain, and there's been no strong commitment by anyone towards him.

Someone pass McCain the Tums.