Oh, no, not another "town hall" meeting.
Or at least, that's how I first reacted when I learned Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church intended to host an Obama-versus-McCain town hall forum at the evangelist's California church.
But the rules, this time at least, seemed intriguing. Warren intended to ask each candidate one-on-one questions for one hour, with the rival offstage unable to hear questions and answers. The second candidate would then come out and answer the same questions in the same order.
Obama, via a coin toss, went first, and answered the often simple, straightforward questions carefully or, as many in the mainstream media later reported, in a "nuanced" way. And then came McCain. He came across as funnier, more personable, more thoughtful, more specific and, for the most part, more direct.
Some highlights. Warren asked the candidates to define "rich."
Obama: "If you are making $150,000 a year or less as a family, then you're middle class, or you may be poor. But 150 (thousand dollars) down, you're basically middle class. Obviously, it depends on region and where you're living. I don't know what housing prices are doing lately. I would argue that if you're making more than 250,000 (dollars), then you're in the top 3, 4 percent of this country. You're doing well. Now, these things are all relative, and I'm not suggesting that everybody who is making over 250,000 (dollars) is living on easy street.
"But the question that I think we have to ask ourselves is, if we believe in good schools, if we believe in good roads, if we want to make sure that kids can go to college, if we don't want to leave a mountain of debt for the next generation, then we've got to pay for these things. They don't come for free. … I believe it is irresponsible intergenerationally for us to invest or for us to spend $10 billion a month on a war and not have a way of paying for it. That, I think, is unacceptable. … Under the approach I'm taking, if you make $150,000 or less, you will see a tax cut. If you're making $250,000 a year or more, you're going to see a modest increase."
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McCain: "I don't want to take any money from the rich. I want everybody to get rich. I don't believe in class warfare or redistribution of wealth. … Let's keep taxes low. Let's give every family in America a $7,000 tax credit for every child they have. Let's give them a $5,000 refundable tax credit to go out and get the health insurance of their choice. Let's not have the government take over the health care system in America. …
"And, my friend, it was not taxes that mattered in America in the last several years. It was spending. Spending got completely out of control. We spent money in a way that mortgaged our kids' future. My friends, we spent $3 million of your money to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Now, I don't know if that was a paternity issue or a criminal issue. But the point is, it was $3 million of your money. …
"So it doesn't matter, really, what my definition of 'rich' is because I don't want to raise anybody's taxes. I really don't. In fact, I want to give working Americans a better shot at having a better life."
Iraq? Obama called his decision to oppose the war "difficult," given at the time the popularity of the president. McCain said: "Not long ago in Baghdad, al-Qaida took two young women who were mentally disabled and put suicide vests on them, sent them into a marketplace and, by remote control, detonated those suicide vests. If that isn't evil, you have to tell me what is. And we're going to defeat this evil. And the central battleground, according to David Petraeus and Osama bin Laden, is Baghdad, Mosul, Basra and Iraq. And we are winning and we are succeeding, and our troops will come home with honor and with victory, and not in defeat."
The following day, on "Meet the Press," NBC's Andrea Mitchell said some "Obama people" suggested that McCain heard the questions in advance because he "seemed so well-prepared."
Indeed, McCain did seem better prepared to lead this country, that is.