Saddleback: The Cone of Silence, POW Honesty, and Pandering

Who would have guessed that the “cone of silence” would become a subject of conversation in political coverage? The New York Times reports that John McCain was not in a “cone of silence” while Barack Obama was answering questions prior to him at the Saddleback Church as Rick Warren had earlier stated. This has raised speculation as to whether McCain cheated and listening in, allowing him more time to prepare answers to the questions. The McCain campaign denied that he cheated:

Nicolle Wallace, a spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, said on Sunday night that Mr. McCain had not heard the broadcast of the event while in his motorcade and heard none of the questions.

“The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous,” Ms. Wallace said.

I have no idea whether John McCain cheated and am making no accusations, but I do find something unseemly in this response. We are to take for granted that McCain could not have possibly cheated because he was a prisoner of war. Will that excuse be used to cover up any misdeed McCain might commit? It has already been established this year that John McCain is an unethical liar by the manner in which he has run a Rove/Clinton style dirty campaign in which he has repeatedly lied about Obama’s positions and record. He may or may not have cheated in this case, but having already demonstrated that he is a dishonest person he cannot expect to use having been a prisoner of war as evidence of honesty in other situations.

Mike Allen reports that both candidates actually knew some of the questions in advance:

A source close to Warren tells Playbook that the candidates knew in advance they would be asked their own greatest moral failure, America’s greatest moral failure, and the three wisest people in their lives.

The source said Obama also knew he would be asked if he’d be willing to commit to an emergency plan for orphans, like President Bush has for AIDS. GIVE OBAMA CREDIT FOR ANSWERING CANDIDLY: “I cheated a little bit. I actually looked at this idea ahead of time, and I think it is a great idea.”

I think it was a good idea to allow the candidates a chance to consider some of these questions ahead of time. There are some questions where we would expect a candidate to be prepared  to answer any time. Other questions, such as these, do require some thought and we could learn more about the candidate based upon an answer they have had time to consider rather than hearing the first thing that comes to mind.

Naturally much of the media has been looking at this from the perspective of who won. Such horse race coverage means little here. John McCain should have won as this forum was held before people who agreed with him on most of the issues and have voted heavily Republican in the past. McCain’s goal was simply to reduce reservations about him so that people who already agree with him will vote for him. Obama had to convince people who disagree with him to vote for him. Obama might convince a handful to look beyond issues such as abortion and vote for him, but this event was McCain’s to win or lose. That is partially why Chuck Todd’s evaluation of the event was so wrong.

The problem is not that Chuck Todd declared McCain the winner but the manner in which he did so:

Obama spent more time trying to impress Warren (or to put another away) not offend Warren while McCain seemingly ignored Warren and decided he was talking to folks watching on TV. The McCain way of handling this forum is usually the winning way. Obama may have had more authentic moments but McCain was impressively on message…

Take the VERY first question Warren posed to both candidates: who are three people you’ll depend on for wisdom in the presidency. Obama seemed to answer this in a very personal way, talking about his wife and grandmother. McCain went right to this message, checking boxes on Iraq (Patraeus) and the economy (Whitman) for instance. Now, I’m betting Obama’s answer came across as more authentic but McCain’s was probably more effective with undecided swing voters.

The two answered the Supreme Court justice question VERY differently, with Obama seemingly trying to say a nice thing or two about justices he disagreed with, while McCain went right to pander mode in his answer. And yet, McCain’s straightforward answer easily penetrated while Obama’s did not.

Every Obama answer was certainly thoughtful enough but he seemed to want to explain himself too much and went out of his way not to offend folks who disagree with him.

For those who support the views held by most of the evangelical voters, McCain did win, with this being the only possible outcome. For others looking at the overall character of the candidates, we have Obama who was “authentic” and who tried to consider the views of those who disagree with him versus McCain who “went right to pander mode.” Which man has the character to be president based upon these descriptions? Certainly not the guy who panders. Andrew Sullivan agrees:

Chuck basically says that unless you pander in soundbites, you lose. If you show respect for your opponent’s views, you lose. However defensible this is as analysis, it isn’t part of the solution, is it?

Obama loses based upon not being a traditional candidate in the Bush/Clinton mode. That is the whole point of much of Obama’s support. We don’t want another Bush or Clinton.

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  1. 1
    John Sargent says:

    To recap:

    1. McCain promised to be in the cone of silence. He broke that promise.

    2. When asked about the cone of silence by Rick Warren, the pastor of the church whose debate he was attending, McCain lied about having broken his promise to be in the cone of silence.

    3. When exposed as having broken his promise to be in the cone of silence and lying about it on national television, McCain’s campaign insisted he could not have cheated because he is a war hero, notwithstanding the fact that he had just been caught breaking a promise and lying about it on national television to man of faith in his own church.

    4. Whether he cheated or not, it is a fact that McCain had the opportunity to cheat.

    Isn’t this obviously a loss for McCain? This doesn’t look like straight-talk to me. Frankly, I didn’t get to catch the Saddleback debate when it first happened, and I watched it after hearing McCain may have cheated. His performance didn’t look so good when I suspected the performer was a cheating liar.

  2. 2
    Jerry says:

    In addition to Warren’s own self-serving lie (yes it was) that McCain was in a cone of silence, and McCain’s own acceptance and enrichment of the lie (he pretended that he had been trying to hear through the wall), we have a potentially much larger lie: the cross.
    Quite a few people are scratching their heads trying to figure out why this story sounds so much like Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s?  And why has McCain’s version changed over the years?  And why didn’t McCain tell it until after Solzhenitsyn published his account?

  3. 3
    Rick says:

    Why is it that McCain hasn’t categorically said that he didn’t have access to any of Obama’s responses, wither directly or via communicatioins with others that monitored Obama’s interview with Pastor Warren and fed the information to McCain.  Instead of a simple statement to that effect, we get McCain supporters screaming that there is no evidence to that effect and accusing the Obama camp of daring to suggest that a war hero would cheat.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    The McCain camp’s denials remind me quite a bit of John Edwards’ initial denials.

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