It's amazing how much mud is flying in this presidential contest - and not just that which is being flung nonstop at Barack Obama. Mudslinging is common during political campaigns, but sometimes that mud isn't exactly a guided missile. There are moments when it's splattered about with such zeal that it just gets all over everything - not just the flingee. In the case of the weekend's Saddleback Forum, one might well suspect that there was way more than a single flinger.
The McCain campaign is doing everything it can think of to make its guy look good, at the expense of everyone and anyone who comes within earshot, as well as the truth. This time, they may well have dragged Pastor Rick Warren down into the muck with them. Misery loves company, perhaps? Or do the fleas on this dog need a robust new host to come lie down in the dog bed?
Full disclosure here: I have not read Warren's bestseller "The Purpose Driven Life" although I have heard and appreciated the testament from legions of people who are glad they did. A truly decent and wonderful man must have written such a book that's meant so much to so many. But I'm not so sure about the author's integrity anymore, at least not after this past weekend.
There's been suspicion aplenty since last Saturday evening when it was whispered that there was no "Cone of Silence" into which John McCain was faithfully sequestered to prevent his hearing Barack Obama's opening-hour interview with Warren. Warren even made a reference to this "Get Smart" mechanism in his introduction to McCain's hour that followed. This one's familiar by now (transcript taken from Rick Warren's own website):
7 Q. WELCOME BACK TO THE SADDLEBACK CIVIL FORUM ON
8 THE PRESIDENCY AND WELCOME SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN.
9 NOW MY FIRST QUESTION WAS THE CONE OF SILENCE
10 COMFORTABLE THAT YOU WERE IN JUST NOW?
11 A. I WAS TRYING TO HEAR THROUGH THE WALL.
http://rickwarrennews.com/transcript/ - PART FOUR
By now, give or take a few hissy-fits from the McCain campaign wherein they did protest too much, we've all heard them finally coughing up the fact that McCain was indeed not in or near any such "Cone of Silence." At best, after a nice long motorcade ride to Saddleback, he got a few minutes in a green room that we've been assured had no TV in it. We have everyone's word on this - perhaps a new kind of "faith-based initiative". Curiously, nothing has been specified about the whereabouts of any campaign staffers with handy BlackBerrys or other text-messaging gizmos on overdrive, tipping off their man about the questions to come as THEY watch or listen to the Obama segments, giving him plausible deniability - and an uncharacteristically smooth, glib, eloquent and blooper-free delivery. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, I guess, unless it's in a carefully-contrived answer to a very specific Rick Warren question about whether evil exists.
By now we've also heard the questionable story-telling by Father-Goose McCain in which he appears to channel Solshenitzen's "Gulag Archipelago" and wikipedia rather than the personal P.O.W. experience about which he relentlessly reminds us, even though his original recountings of his captivity made little or no mention of it
AND I WAS STANDING OUTSIDE FOR MY FEW
14 MINUTES, OUTSIDE MY CELL. HE CAME WALKING UP. HE STOOD
15 THERE FOR A MINUTE AND WITH HIS HANDLE ON THE DIRT IN THE
16 COURTYARD HE DREW A CROSS AND HE STOOD THERE AND A MINUTE
17 LATER, HE RUBBED IT OUT AND WALKED AWAY. FOR A MINUTE
18 THERE, THERE WAS JUST TWO CHRISTIANS WORSHIPPING TOGETHER
http://rickwarrennews.com/transcript/ - PART FIVE
What I haven't heard covered, at all, is the part that disturbs me most. It goes to the suspicion that McCain got cheat-sheets ahead of time. It doesn't just apply to one quote or one anecdote here. It applies to the entire evening, AND to the entire evening's host, as well as to the entire image, also carefully-contrived, that John McCain has cultivated as a straight-shooter. Elsewhere in the fifth section of Warren's transcript comes a most distressing blurt (line 16 below):
8 Q OKAY. WE DON'T HAVE TO GO LONGER ON THAT ONE.
9 DEFINE MARRIAGE.
10 A UNION -- A UNION BETWEEN MAN AND WOMAN, BETWEEN
11 ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN, THAT'S MY DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE.
12 ARE WE GOING TO GET BACK TO THE IMPORTANCE OF SUPREME
13 COURT JUSTICES.
14 Q WE'LL GET TO THAT.
15 A ALL RIGHT. OKAY.
16 Q YOU GOT ALL MY QUESTIONS, GOOD.
17 A WHEN WE SPEAK OF THE ISSUES OF THE RIGHTS OF THE
18 UNBORN, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT JUDGES, BUT ANYWAY GO AHEAD.
http://rickwarrennews.com/transcript/ - PART FIVE
"You got all my questions, good"? Excuse me? I haven't heard anybody address that one, nor have I heard of any such efforts by Rick Warren or anyone else in his organization, much less from John McCain's "Straight Talk Express" posse. But we need to hear about this, very much. Maybe it's just a little thing. Maybe I'm just splitting hairs here. Maybe Rick Warren simply misspoke. But enough suspicion has been aroused, and enough questions have already been raised about the cleanliness of the Obama/McCain Saddleback Forum that I think the parties most directly involved better open up completely. SOMEBODY needs to.
This campaign has now deteriorated to such an extent that it's now sullied the name, the reputation, and the operation of an esteemed religious leader, an individual who up til now has not been among the "usual suspects". For me, the whole sordid episode has now transformed Pastor Rick Warren into just another guy I don't want to trust anymore.
I won't bother demanding full accountability of McCain's people. I am profoundly uncertain about their ability or willingness to come clean if something really is as fishy as this smells. After all, the McCain campaign is loaded with schemers and corner cutters, Rovians, lobbyists and other special interest rogues trying to fly under the radar, and holdovers from the Bush administration. Not a whole lot to recommend them for honesty and/or openness. But many of us have come to expect it of such folks. We don't, however, expect it of a Rick Warren who's made a great effort to stand apart from such latter-day Pharisees as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and the late Jerry Falwell.
One would hope a man like Rick Warren would be above such things, a mega-preacher whose word and motivations are pure gold, beyond all reproach. I'd like to hear Warren address this scandal more fully, and in much greater depth than a casual extended chit-chat with Larry King would offer. The pastor can't afford to absorb a blow like this, and his many trusting and devoted followers don't deserve it, either. Nor do we voters, who've been gamed enough already. And John McCain can ill afford this, because of the blanks it starts to fill in rather disturbingly on the character issue as he strives to convince America that he's up to the job of president. We all lose if this particular chapter winds up being titled "The Purpose Driven Cheat."