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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Post Analysis of Obama and McCain's Saddleback Forum
Aired August 16, 2008 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. I'm John King in Washington tonight.
Faith in Jesus, same-sex marriage, good versus evil, abortion and so much more - heavy stuff to talk about on a Saturday night, but those and plenty of other topics were thrown tonight at the candidates for president, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.
This was the big moment about an hour ago. Check this out -- sharing the stage for the first and most likely the final time until their conventions which come up later this month at the mega-church in Southern California, Saddleback Church.
They each had an hour face-to-face with senior pastor Rick Warren, who called this his Civil Forum on the Presidency. We all watched it. I can tell you we're all over it on this Saturday night, the best political team on television and a host of analysts to help break it down.
You see them on your screen there -- CNN's Dana Bash, senior political analyst David Gergen, senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, CNN's Bill Schneider, political analyst Roland Martin, and the president of the Family Research Council Tony Perkins, also David Brody from the Christian Broadcasting Network joining us as well.
We want to begin with Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent. She's at the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest within the hall for this remarkable night.
Candy, your first impression?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: My first impression was just stylistically how different these men are. We do know that they have differences on abortion and taxes and a number of things. But what we saw here was McCain very direct, answering questions before they were asked -- yes, no, yes. We saw Obama, you know, more nuanced, as he is apt to be also on the campaign trail.
And also what's interesting here to me just as a forum, and that is that we didn't hear, you know, what's your favorite bible passage? What do you think about church? How do you like your sermons? There were religious things as you noted, but there were also a number of things about taxes, what's worth dying for.
So it was far less about religion and a lot more about values. I think people got a real sense of maybe how these two men think. We did hear a lot of stump speech from both of them. But you did get some glimpses that I judge most people have not seen because they haven't followed the campaign trail day after day.
KING: A great way to put it, Candy. I want to bring in now Dana Bash for her comments as well.
Dana, you and Candy are the two reporters who spent most of the time of those we have on hand tonight, actually out on the road with the candidates. As you watch them tonight in this first time, not a debate, not even together, but their first time in the same forum, your headline impression?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, my impression was actually similar to Candy's in terms of the style and the differences in the style. Particularly just in terms of how they approached the way that the questions were coming at them, and who they actually addressed in answering the questions.
Barack Obama really took this as a conversation with Rick Warren. He addressed the audience sometimes but not really much. He really looked at Rick Warren and answered his questions in a very slow, very nuanced way, as Candy said.
John McCain barely -- I mean, he looked at Rick Warren, but his answers were addressing the public, addressing the audience, addressing the voters at home, much like he likes to do over and over again, week after week, in his town hall meetings.
So just the way that they approached this particular event and approached who they're talking to really said a lot about the kinds of candidates they are.
KING: We're going to spend most of the next hour taking a look at those very issues, the style, the substance. What the candidates have to say on the great variety of questions they were asked. We're going to do so by playing some of the highlights throughout the night.
We hope you'll stick with us this next hour. Share your Saturday night with us as we get this expert analysis as we play the highlights of tonight's remarkable forum. And the questions at the beginning focused on faith and what it means to you. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: As a starting point, it means I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins and that I am redeemed through him. That is a source of strength and sustenance on a daily basis. I know that I don't walk alone, and I know that if I can get myself out of the way, that I can maybe carry out in some small way what he intends. And it means that those sins that I have on a fairly regular basis hopefully will be washed away.
But what it also means, I think, is a sense of obligation to embrace not just words but through deeds. The expectations, I think, that God has for us. And that means thinking about the least of this. It means acting justly in loving mercy and walking humbly with our God. And that, I think, trying to apply those lessons on a daily basis knowing that you're going to fall a little bit short each day and being able to kind of take note and say, well, that didn't quite work out the way I think it should have, but maybe I can get a little bit better. It gives me the confidence to try things including things like running for president.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Means I'm saved and forgiven. We're talking about the world, our faith encompasses not just the United States of America but the world. Can I tell you another story real quick?
RICK WARREN, SADDLEBACK FORUM HOST: Sure.
MCCAIN: The Vietnamese kept us in prison in conditions of solitary confinement or two or three to a cell. They did that because they knew they could break down our resistance. One of the techniques that they used to get information was to take ropes and tie them around your biceps, pull your biceps behind you, loop the rope around your head and pull your head down between your knees and leave you in that position. You can imagine. It is very uncomfortable.
One night I was being punished in that fashion. All of a sudden the door of the cell opened and a guard came in, a guy who was just what we call a gun guard who just walked around the camp with a gun on his shoulder. He went like this, and then he loosened the ropes. He came back about four hours later and he tightened them up again and left.
The following Christmas, because it was Christmas Day, we were allowed to stand outside of our cell for a few minutes. In those days, we were not allowed to see or communicate with each other, although we certainly did. And I was standing outside for my few minutes outside of my cell. He came walking up and stood there for a minute, and with his handle on the dirt in the courtyard, he drew a cross, and he stood there and a minute later he rubbed it out and walked away. For a minute there, there was just two Christians worshiping together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's bring in our panel to begin our discussion. David Gergen, you watched many of presidential campaign and been involved in some. Faith is the most personal of attributes and yet it is something that can be critically important to many voters across the political spectrum in the country. What did you learn tonight watching these men?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That John McCain's going to be a much tougher opponent for Barack Obama in the debates than anybody ever might have imagined just a few weeks ago. I thought Barack Obama's answer tonight was helpful to him and addressed a couple of things because there's been a lot of doubt about his Christian faith. 12 percent still thinks he's a Muslim. I think he helped to dispel that myth tonight. I think he also helped to dispel the myth that he's such an elitist and he's arrogant. He was quite humble in that answer and many others.
Along comes McCain, who not only has -- he doesn't like to talk about his religion very much. And then he talks about it openly. But he has a very powerful story that's emotionally connected to the audience. And these conversations with the American people over the next, it's the candidate who can connect emotionally to Middle America who will have the big advantage going down the stretch.
So I thought both men handled themselves well on that question and generally tonight. But again and again, McCain and those stories or that passion that I really think helped him a great deal.
KING: Well, Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council, let me bring you in on that point, because we talked a bit in the pre-game. We've talked about this over many, many months.
One of the questions, the skepticism of your members and your voters, Christian conservatives is that John McCain doesn't talk, in their view, enough about this, so they don't trust him. I've heard that story about drawing the cross many times, but he often stops at the guard drawing the cross. Today, he added the "just two Christians standing there worshiping for a moment." Did he do something new? Did he make advances in your view tonight?
TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, I think, overall, John McCain did extremely well tonight. I think on the faith question, as David pointed out, I think they both addressed it, straight on. But I think John McCain seemed a little more comfortable in talking about it tonight. Now, he's more concise in all of his answers. He goes right to the point. He's a man of few words.
But I think David is absolutely correct when he tells stories, he connects. Americans connect with stories. And he is painting a picture. And I think he did extremely well tonight on a number of issues. But on faith, I think he did what he needed to do.
KING: And Roland Martin, you've watched both of these candidates. And we were talking a bit in the pre-game about the challenge each of them faced. On that specific issue, what faith means to them. What Christ means to them? Your assessment?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think, clearly, you heard Obama try to expound to a great detail of what it means to him. Because frankly, you have these folks who have these doubts even though how ridiculous they are, he is indeed a Christian.
But then you have McCain who didn't necessarily have to spend that much time trying to convince somebody of that. But you know, one of the things I had to pass through -- actually I was on many different Web sites, John, reading some different responses. There are still some people who felt that John McCain still was not more in depth.
He went a lot of times in tonight back to national security, to terrorism, to the war in Iraq, as opposed to going more inward as to who he is and how he is with his faith. He certainly answered some questions but, again, he leaned more on the national security side than really who he is as a person of faith.
KING: Much more to come in our programming tonight. You'll hear much more of the candidates' answers on these issues of faith, personal values and other issues as well including war and peace. And CBN, Christian Broadcast Network's David Brody interviewed Barack Obama just after tonight's forum. We'll hear some of that when we come back. Plus, what the candidates said about their biggest moral failure.
KING: Much more ground to cover as we bring you the highlights of some expert analysis of tonight's presidential forum out in California. Right now, let's bring in David Brody. He's the senior national correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network. And just after the forum tonight, he interviewed Barack Obama.
David, give us the highlights.
DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: Well, I'll tell you, it was interesting. We were back there. We had about five minutes with him or so. He looked real relaxed. He seemed happy about how things went tonight. He actually had some nuts in his mouth. He was chewing there for a while. We had to wait a little bit. David Axelrod there on his laptop and his senior adviser. So they were feeling very good. They felt very comfortable. But I was curious at the beginning of the interview is -- to ask a little bit about that handshake on stage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRODY: I want to ask, I was backstage. I didn't see the handshake. But I'm curious what that was like to be on stage with John McCain and what was going through your mind when all of that was going on?
OBAMA: Well, you know John and I served in the Senate together. So we see each other all the time. It was great to see him. As he said, you know, he'll see me in a couple weeks. We're going to be debating each other for throughout the fall.
BRODY: Tell me a little bit about how you felt up there on stage in terms of what may have been that, the hardest question or at least the question that you may not have been looking forward to address so much.
OBAMA: You know, I thought, Pastor Rick is a good friend. He and I have known each other for some time. I've been to this church before. And so I knew that he'd be fair and press me on issues that are of particular concern to the Evangelical community, but I also knew that they weren't issues that I hadn't heard before and hadn't wrestled with myself.
So, you know, one of the wonderful things about Rick is he is somebody who, I think, has genuine good will towards everybody and even when he disagrees with you, I think he's going to give you a fair hearing.
BRODY: Let me ask you a little about some of these ads that John McCain has been running not just on television, but on the Web. You know, let's face it, let's call a spade a spade. There has been some Messianic references, there's been some antichrist stuff going on, the celebrity, they're trying to pigeonhole you a certain way. Do you believe this is being done on purpose? OBAMA: Well of course it's being done on purpose. You know, they're not spending a whole bunch of money to make me out as a good guy. They're engaging in the kind of politics that I think we've become accustomed to which is you try to tear your opponents down and you engage in sort of slash and burn tactics. And very personal sort of personal character attacks.
And one of the challenges for us in this campaign is how do you make sure those attacks are answered quickly and forcefully, but also truthfully and that we don't fall into that same kind of tactic. And look, I think ultimately the American people are going to understand by the time they go into the polling place in November that this is not an election about me. This an election about them -- ordinary people, their lives, their hopes, their dreams, the fact that their incomes have gone down over the last eight years, the fact that their jobs are less secure, that they have less retirement security, that their kids can't afford college, that jobs are being shipped overseas, that the tax code isn't fair and that special interests have come to dominate Washington.
And as long as we're communicating an active plan to fix those problems then I think we're going to do well.
BRODY: Real quick, the born alive infant protection act. I gotta tell you that's the one thing I get a lot of emails about and it's just not just from Evangelicals, it's about Catholics, Protestants, main -- they're trying to understand it because there was some literature put out by the National Right to Life Committee. And they're basically saying they felt like you misrepresented your position on that bill.
OBAMA: Let me clarify this right now.
BRODY: Because it's getting a lot of play.
OBAMA: Well and because they have not been telling the truth. And, you know, I hate to say that people are lying, but here's a situation where folks are lying.
I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported, which was to say that you should provide assistance to any infant that was born even if it was as a consequence of an induced abortion.
That was not the bill that was presented at the state level. What that bill also was doing was trying to undermine Roe vs. Wade. By the way, we also had a bill, a law already in place in Illinois that insured life saving treatment was given to infants.
So for people to suggest that I and the Illinois medical society, so Illinois doctors were somehow in favor of withholding life saving support from an infant born alive is ridiculous. It defies commonsense and it defies imagination and for people to keep on pushing this is offensive and it's an example of the kind of politics that we have to get beyond. It's one thing for people to disagree with me about the issue of choice, it's another thing for people to out and out misrepresent my positions repeatedly, even after they know that they're wrong. And that's what's been happening.
BRODY: I wanted to give you a chance to clear it up.
OBAMA: I appreciate it.
BRODY: Thank you so much.
OBAMA: You bet. Great to see you, David.
BRODY: So do I.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRODY: Well, I have to tell you, you know, I've interviewed him four times. And that clearly was the most heated he has ever been in any of my interviews. You know, obviously, I see him on the stump quite a bit. And he doesn't get that heated very often, but boy, he sure did on that issue. Because he knows that the Republicans could easily go after him on that. And the campaign is concerned about it.
KING: You see a lot of traffic about that this past week in e-mail and other forms of communication on that specific issue. David Brody, who I should know the CNN's newest political contributor.
David, you spend a lot of time covering the campaign and a lot of time talking to people in the faith community. Both of these candidates had different but significant challenges coming into this first forum tonight, as they try to reach into the other guy's voter nest or maybe in John McCain's case solidify the skeptics in his own Republican base.
Give me quickly your impressions of whether they passed the test.
BRODY: Well, I think John McCain had a great night. I mean, I don't think there's any question about it. I felt the money line tonight for John McCain was "I will be a pro-life president and my administration will have pro-life policies."
That is a line evangelicals have been wanting to hear for some time from John McCain, and I think he did it pretty effectively tonight.
The other thing -- and Candy and others have talk about this, we really did see a stark difference between the nuance of Barack Obama and the straight talk express, if you will, of John McCain.
I mean, the way I saw it, the straight talk express had a full tank of gas tonight. Because I mean he was very serious going right in there. You know, when he mentioned the cross story, real quick, John -- you know, we've heard the cross story before in many of us who cover politics. There was a concern at that point whether or not that would be all he would say about it. But he did seem to go a little further, so I thought that was something effective. Bottom line very effective night for John McCain. The bar was set pretty low going in, but I think he was way over it tonight.
KING: We'll hear more from John McCain when we continue our coverage. David Brody, thank you. We'll have a little bit more of Senator McCain to offset the long conversation there with Senator Obama. When we return, two hours, two presidential candidates. They shared only a handshake, their views vastly different on many of the issues. Our coverage of tonight's McCain-Obama forum continues in a moment.
KING: One real highlight of this religious forum found both candidates, McCain and Obama in virtual agreement. The question was where they saw America's greatest moral shortcoming. Morality, Christian faith and hypotheticals on what they would not do. Not your ordinary election year political discourse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I had a difficult youth. My father wasn't in the house. I've written about this. There were times where I experimented with drugs, I drank. You know, in my teenage years, and what I traced this to is a certain selfishness on my part. I was so obsessed with me and the reasons that I might be dissatisfied, that I couldn't focus on other people. And you know, I think the process for me growing up was to recognize that it's not about me.
MCCAIN: My greatest moral failing, and I have been a very imperfect person, is the failure of my first marriage. That's my greatest moral failure. I think America's greatest moral failure has been throughout our existence perhaps we have not devoted ourselves to causes greater than our self-interests, although we've been the best at it of anybody in the world.
I think after 9/11, my friends, instead of telling people to go shopping or take a trip, we should have told Americans to join the Peace Corps AmeriCorps, the military, expand our volunteers.
Expand the great missions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We continue our conversation with our panel and a great panel it is. I want to go out to Bill Schneider in Kansas.
Bill, candidates like to talk about their strength. They don't like to spend a lot of time talking about their weaknesses. What did you make of both candidates there talking about low points in their life?
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it was very interesting that they both talked about their faith, their personal experiences. John McCain brought up his troubled first marriage, which he has taken responsibility for. That's a story that I'm not sure has been told at this point. What was remarkable about this debate was -- I mean, it really technically was not a debate, but Americans saw it as a debate without squabbling. And that is a real breakthrough. And very informative I think and useful for voters. And they talked about religion and values without bitter division. That, too, was a breakthrough moment. Because a lot of the people think it can't be done.
Each candidate used the opportunity I think to showcase his strengths. Barack Obama's answers were complex, thoughtful, very subtle. He stretched the theme of unity. He wants to be a unifier. And he stood by his principles on issues like abortion and gay rights. But he was respectful of people who disagree with him and said he would listen to people on the other side.
John McCain I think came across as direct and principled but most of all he stressed his personal story. It's the story that gets a lot of people to vote for him, who disagree with him and has even throughout the primaries.
KING: Candy Crowley, as you're watching, you were inside the room tonight, a unique perspective. When the candidates were talking about their failing, their weaknesses, where they have gone wrong, what's it like in the room? Did you sense a different reaction to the people? Did they make a connection in saying here's where I messed up?
CROWLEY: I tell you what was really interesting to me was you and I have heard John McCain before talk about the mistakes that he made, the responsibility he takes for his first marriage being broken up, but what you could hear a pin drop when he started that. And understand that they were on -- you can see McCain in two big screens on either side of the set. And it really was a very effective comment by him. It wasn't very long. And he turned really quickly to the country. But there really was some real tension in that room or real sort of listening kind of tension.
As for Barack Obama, I think the same thing. And we've heard him tell the story about his misspent childhood, you know, some things he did as a teenager that he is not proud of. But again, they did it in this forum where they're kind of allowed to relax. And I think it comes across more powerfully, certainly to people that have not heard this before as most Americans have not.
KING: God forbid we hear our candidates be human. Hopefully, we'll have more forums like this. But I'm going to play for you -- you heard a lot from Barack Obama the last time. We want to play for you here, one of the questions John McCain was asked tonight was what is the toughest decision he ever had to make. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: In a prison camp in North Vietnam, my father was a high ranking admiral. The Vietnamese came and said that I could leave prison early. And we had a code of conduct that said you only leave by order of capture. I also had a dear and beloved friend who was from California by the name Ed Alvarez who had been shot down and captured a couple years before me. But I wasn't in good physical shape. In fact, I was in rather bad physical shape. And so I said no.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm very happy I didn't know the war was going to last for another three years or so. But I said no and I'll never forget sitting in my last answer and the high ranking officer who offered it slammed the door and the interrogator said go back to your cell it's going to be very tough on you now. And it was. But not only the toughest decision I ever made but I'm most happy about that decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Continuing our post analysis of a remarkable night tonight, senators John McCain and Barack Obama tackling tough questions at a forum tonight. Our coverage of this forum continues in just a moment.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: John McCain and Barack Obama were in a church tonight, the Saddleback Church out in Southern California, fielding questions about a host of issues. Because of the setting, no surprise that one of the questions was about abortion. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I am pro-choice. I believe in Roe Versus Wade. And I come to that conclusion not because I'm pro-abortion but because ultimately, I don't think women make these decisions casually.
I think they -- they wrestle with these things in profound ways, in consultation with their pastors or their spouses or their doctors and their family members. And so for me, the goal right now should be -- and this is where I think we can find common ground. And by the way, I've now inserted this into the Democratic Party platform, is how do we reduce the number of abortions?
RICK WARREN, HOST, SADDLEBACK FORUM: What point is a baby entitled to human rights?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: At the moment of conception. I have a 25-year pro-life record in the Congress, in the Senate and as president of the United States I will be a pro-life president, and this presidency will have pro-life policies.
KING: Get right back to our panel. CNN's Dana Bash, our senior political analyst David Gergen, political analyst Roland Martin and the president of the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins.
Roland, haven't been able to get you in yet. Thank you for your patience. Let me ask you, that is one of the issues on which these candidates have very different opinion. How do you think that one played out?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that played out exactly how we expected to play out. That is Obama was going to say he is pro- choice. McCain would say he is pro-life. And that is where I felt McCain is more like somebody who was on trial and as opposed to looking at the lawyer, he was really focused on the jury the entire time.
This whole issue of being pro-life, pro-life policies, appointing conservative judges, I mean, he was -- I mean, bottom line talking to that particular audience.
But John, I'm going to go back to your previous question when you raise the moral failure. It's really interesting when you hear that question, Obama talked about personally it affected him, using drugs and alcohol. I think McCain, he talked about that room growing quiet and then McCain -- waiting for his answer.
I think the room was waiting for McCain to admit, that, yes, I cheated. I committed adultery in my marriage. I think he dodged it by saying well, my greatest moral failure was my marriage ending. So I think people -- because I agree we were all here going -- is he actually going to answer the question. The dodge of events is really interesting how they maneuver around certain questions, and were direct on those questions when they needed to appeal to a certain audience.
KING: Politicians maneuver. I'm shocked that you would suggest that.
MARTIN: I just picked it up.
KING: Dana Bash, you cover McCain all the time. After the forum, tonight, I received an e-mail from a senior adviser who said look at the answer on abortion. Look at some of the other things he said you will not hear any more talk from us about the possibility of a pro- abortion rights vice presidential nomination. What do you make of that?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, that also could be in part because of what happened this past week when John McCain mentioned the name Tom Ridge, who is for abortion rights and it fell with about the loudest thud that you could hear in the evangelical community.
But just to make a point about what Roland said, I think that he does have a point in the different answers that each of them gave about their moral discretion. But I also think really is generational. John McCain is not from the Oprah Winfrey generation. Barack Obama in many ways is. And I think that the way that McCain answered the question about his marriage is the code in which a 71, almost 72-year- old man speaks and is very different from the kind of discussion that Barack Obama has, who is 47, about his youth and the drugs that he did and so on and so forth. So I think that it obviously shows the difference in a lot of ways but I think generational was really interesting there.
KING: David Gergen, if you look at national polling and majority of Americans support abortion rights, at least basic abortion rights. There gets to be disagreement over late term abortions. But on the general question, should a woman especially in the first trimester have the right to an abortion, that tests as a yes question, nationally.
But we elect presidents state by state. Talk about presidential politics and how that issue plays out differently in some states than it does in others.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is very critical if you want to win the election as a Republican, to get your evangelical base energized. And the challenge John McCain had coming into this as you well know is that he's ahead among evangelicals like 65 points or like 65-30, and that was a very friendly audience tonight.
But he needs to shore up and strengthen the evangelical part of his base and he needs to really get them energized. And I thought that's what he was trying to do tonight.
I think Tony Perkins would agree that he succeeded to a significant degrees. Where does it make a difference? Well, I just ask John Kerry about a state like Ohio. Back in 2004, you know, Kerry set these really ambitious goals for Democrats. They met those goals in terms of turnout. They thought they're going to win the state. And they got beaten because evangelicals rose up in large numbers of volunteers on the Republican side. They turned out even a bigger vote than Kerry was able to do. And he won the state and to a very significant degree, and it help to win the election.
So, this was Karl Rove's whole strategy from 2000 and 2004. In 2000, they didn't have evangelicals who were sort of turned off into some of the very friendly and stay way from the polls. Karl Rove spent the next four years trying to get them energized and Bush won handily in 2004. That's the difference it makes (INAUDIBLE) politics.
KING: Much more from our panel just ahead. We thank you for spending some time with us on this Saturday night. We thank our panel for their patients. And when we come back, much more from this fascinating forum tonight between the two presidential candidates. We will hear when we return what they had to say when asked about evil. Stay with us.
KING: The two presidential candidates sharing a stage tonight, taking questions, not at the same time but taking roughly the same questions from Pastor Rick Warren from the Saddleback Church out in California. One of the questions Pastor Warren put to both John McCain and Barack Obama, is there evil in the world? And if so, what will you do about it?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: Does evil exist and, if so, should we ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it or defeat it?
MCCAIN: Defeat it.
(APPLAUSE) A couple points. One, if I'm president of the United States, my friends, if I have to follow him to the gates of hell, I will get Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice. I will do that and I know how to do it. I will get that guy. No one, no one should be allowed to take thousands of innocent American lives.
WARREN: Does evil exist and, if it does, do we ignore it, do we negotiate with it, do we contain it, or do we defeat it?
OBAMA: Evil does exist. I mean, I think we see evil all the time. We see evil in Darfur. We see evil sadly on the streets of our cities. We see evil in parents who viciously abuse their children. And I think it has to be confronted. It has to be confronted squarely. And one of the things that I strongly believe is that, you know, we are not going to, as individuals, be able to erase evil from the world. That is God's task. But we can be soldiers in that process. And we can confront it when we see it.
Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for us to have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil. Because, you know, a lot of evil's been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil.
WARREN: In the name of good.
OBAMA: In the name of good. And I think, you know, one thing that's very important is having some humility in recognizing that just because we think our intentions are good doesn't always mean that we're going to be doing good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's get an assessment now from our panel to those responses. Once again, CNN's Dana Bash, senior political analyst David Gergen, political analyst Roland Martin and Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council.
Tony Perkins, there perhaps as much as any question, the stylistic difference between these two men. More of an assertive, defiant, I will get evil from John McCain, and a more thoughtful, subdued answer from Barack Obama. Is one right and one wrong or are they just different?
TONY PERKINS, PRES. FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, I think they are different, John. But I also think this is the closest look we've had at contrast. And there's clearly a contrast between these two candidates. We saw it throughout the night. Whether it was domestic policy, whether it was social policy, whether it was foreign policy.
And I have to say, I think John McCain did well. The expectations were fairly low for him going into this, as Candy said earlier, but I think he did extremely well. And I think, you know, there's still a number of miles to go in this campaign. But I think he picked up a few evangelical riders on that straight talk express tonight.
MARTIN: You know, John, it was interesting how they answered that evil question. McCain solely focused on Osama Bin Laden and terrorism and Al Qaeda, but you saw Obama bring in the issue of, in terms of Darfur, but also evil in America. I just thought that was interesting that he actually went there because all too often I think in America we think in terms of externally as opposed to also what is happening in our own country. And so absolutely how they answered the questions reveals how they also think about the issue broadened.
KING: And David Gergen, what does a voter learn from that? You're looking at these two men. And we know people care as much about personal characteristic, their leadership capabilities, who they are and what they stand for.
When you watch them answer a question like that and their answers are so strikingly different, what do you learn?
GERGEN: John, I think it is one of the most revealing answers we had -- some of the answers we have throughout the evening. And it presents in a very, very stark way the choice Americans have to make about what kind of leader we want facing the outer world. John McCain is very much Teddy Roosevelt. That's his hero. He's combative.
I think Roland Martin made a point very earlier that to some people he might be so simplistic. He's very direct and forceful. And there is a sense, if you come close to doing anything we don't like very much, we may punch you in the nose, and -- because he's so direct and forceful about that.
At the same time, you know, he says, we've got to go defeat evil. Barack Obama says we have to confront evil. Evil is always going to exist. And we have to be cautious about the way and even humble about the way we go at it. That suggests a very different kind of presidency from what we had with George W. Bush and indeed what John McCain is arguing.
In some ways, John McCain's night -- I think this is one of the issues at this point that will trouble people on the progressive side of politics and even perhaps some in the middle -- is he too forward looking on the use of force and sort of going out and looking for and beating back trouble in the world? Do we need someone who is more thoughtful, wants to work with others, a little more humble, not quite as self-righteous. And I think that's going to be a big, big question for voters.
KING: Very true.
GERGEN: In the weeks ahead to try to make that judgment.
KING: One of the questions we will consider in the 80 days between now and Election Day. Another, perhaps, one of the biggest, if not the biggest responsibilities a president faces when he or she gets to make appointments is to the Supreme Court.
Those picks, of course, can outlast any one president and heavily shape their legacy. Both candidates tonight were asked rather an unorthodox question about how they would approach the Supreme Court. We'll have that when we come back. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Supreme Court picks. Who would a president pick or a candidate pick? How would they look at such a pick? That's an issue that comes up in every presidential campaign.
When it came up in tonight's presidential forum out at the Saddleback Church in California, Pastor Rick Warren trying a different approach with the candidates. Asking Barack Obama and John McCain to look at the existing Supreme Court, look at the nine justices. Who among them would you not have nominated?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Souter and Justice Stevens.
WARREN: Why? Tell me why.
MCCAIN: Well, I think that the president of the United States has incredible responsibility in nominating people to the United States Supreme Court. They are lifetime positions as well as the federal bench. There will be two or maybe three vacancies.
This nomination should be based on the criteria of proven record of strictly adhering to the constitution of the United States of America and not legislating from the bench.
Some of the worst damage has been done by legislating from the bench. And by the way, Justices Alito and Roberts are two of my most recent favorites, by the way.
OBAMA: I would not have nominated Clarence Thomas. I don't think that he was a strong enough jurist or legal thinker at the time for that elevation. Setting aside the fact that I profoundly disagree with his interpretations of a lot of the constitution. I would not nominate Justice Scalia, although I don't think there's any doubt about his intellectual brilliance because he and I just disagree. He taught at the University of Chicago, as did I, in law school.
WARREN: How about John Roberts?
OBAMA: John Roberts, I have to say, was a tougher question only because -- (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's bring in our panel to continue our discussion. CNN's Dana Bash, senior political analyst David Gergen, CNN's Bill Schneider -- no, he's not with us anymore. But Roland Martin is with us and Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council.
Dana, I want to start with you. You watch these candidates. You also spent a lot of time on Capitol Hill. In the Senate, John McCain voted, I believe, for every one of those justices he says he wouldn't have nominated. Now, I know he has an explanation for that. But Ginsburg, Breyer, Souter, Stevens, explain.
BASH: Well, obviously, those are the judges that the evangelicals, that social conservative voters want to hear from John McCain's own lips that he opposes and that he would not support because the issue of judges is perhaps one of the most, if not the most important issue for many social conservatives.
And the voters out there who went out in large numbers for George W. Bush, that is one of the things that they want to hear from John McCain because that is something that gives them a lot more faith in John McCain. One thing that was interesting in that litany, though, if you break it down, yes, he voted for Ginsburg and Breyer, those were nominees from a Democratic president. But the one that was most interesting there, John, was where he has said the name David Souter. Why?
Because four Republicans were conservatives. That is the one that hurts the most because he was nominated by a Republican president, the first president, 41st president, George H.W. Bush, and that's what some Republicans want to hear from him that's he's not going to make the same mistake another Republican president made.
KING: We'll see how that one plays out in David Souter's home state of New Hampshire, a swing state in this election.
But Tony Perkins, judges are important to your constituency. Was that the right answer? Did you hear what you wanted to hear from John McCain on that one?
TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Absolutely. Another area of clear contrast could not be clearer between the two candidates. I mean, we see it not only in judges, and I hope you get to the tax policy because that's another area where there's a clear contrast between the two candidates.
John McCain wants to cut it and Barack Obama wants to raise it. So again, through the night, contrasts. And I think this is a good forum question to ask that really -- and as you've mentioned in a very civil way, but really does get to where the candidates are on a number of these issues.
MARTIN: Tony, he couldn't even define who is actually rich in America. But here's a deal, though, on holding with judges. I mean, Tony, he was talking to your crowd, absolutely. But you know what, John, the problem I think with that question -- I think first of all, Warren only said name one. He named all four of those some would say liberal or moderate justices.
PERKINS: You just said he wasn't talking enough so he gave more.
MARTIN: He still got to focus, Tony, on independent voters. And so if I'm a progressive or an independent, I'm going to go after him on that one. Because, again, he mentioned those four, it was clear that he's going to be toeing the line of you guys.
PERKINS: Well, look, you could say the same thing about Barack Obama.
MARTIN: Well, first of all, you know what? Look, I wouldn't have nominated Clarence Thomas either. But at least he still see Antonin Scalia had the legal mind to actually be on the Supreme Court.
KING: I'm going to call a time-out right here. We have to make a little bit of money here so CNN can meet the candidate's definition of rich. We're going to make a little money and take a quick break. When we come back, the final thoughts of our patients and excited panel tonight. Stay right with us.
KING: A few minutes to go. Let's bring in our panel for some final thoughts on tonight's remarkable forum. As presidential candidates sharing the stage for the first time tonight.
David Gergen, I want to begin with you. Everyone, take about 30 to 40 seconds. Give me your final thoughts. And if you can, don't just look back on what we saw tonight but how you think what we saw will affect the next 80 days to the election.
GERGEN: I think coming out of this, the clear lesson for Barack Obama is if he wants to win the debates against John McCain, he's going to have to lift the quality of his game. He's got to be like McCain forceful, persuasive, patriotic, moved the crowd. Barack Obama thoughtful, but I don't think moved the needle very much emotionally. He's going to have to lift it up.
I think we ought to readjust our thoughts about what these debates look like. John McCain is going to be a much tougher opponent. But tonight is an example of much tougher opponent in these debates than anybody thought.
MARTIN: John McCain keep the personal stories going, also toe the line from appeal to evangelicals, but also be very mindful of independents. Senator Barack Obama cut the long winded questions. His best segment tonight frankly was the last one where he gave the short, snappier answers where he was much more clear. He was still thoughtful. But also emphasize character, his family, his children, drive that home. That's going to be critical as opposed to relying just on issues.
KING: Tony Perkins?
PERKINS: I think Barack Obama is going to have to get into specifics. You know, the dancing around the issues is not going to cut it when he's going face-to-face with someone who is willing to give the short answers and cut to the chase. I think John McCain has momentum going forward that he can build upon with social conservative voters. I don't think that he's at risk of alienating independent voters. I think from here you've got the vice presidential picks which are going to be important to both campaigns. And then you have the conventions. Two very important events that are coming up very soon.
KING: And Dana Bash, Tony mentioned all those significant milestones just ahead. Take us from here through those.
BASH: Well, obviously, the next important milestones are going to be who each of these candidates is going to pick for their running mates. And you know, obviously, there was no discussion at all about that tonight. But they did do a very good job, each of them, I think, in defining more for the voters who each of them really is.
So if, you know, -- there's been a lot of talk this year, for various reasons, about the fact that for once, perhaps, the VP pick is going to really matter more than it has in the past but maybe not so much after you really got a sense, that the voters got a sense if they are watching tonight, of who each of these candidates really are, not just on the issues but personally in terms of their moral compass.
But I will say that one thing that was very interesting in watching them is, you know, we talked at the beginning before about the fact that Democrats hadn't talked very much about faith, and that Barack Obama is different from John Kerry and Al Gore, and John McCain is different from George Bush for the opposite reason.
But in watching this tonight, it looked a lot like George Bush. John McCain was like George Bush in that he was very direct, very clear about his answers. And Barack Obama looked a little bit like the Democratic candidates we've seen in the last two election cycles, very nuanced.
KING: All right. I want to thank our panel for their patients. And we want to thank you for watching at home and spending some time with us on this Saturday night. I'm John King. Thanks for joining our special coverage of this presidential forum, tonight. A lot of news over the last hour and we're not done yet.
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