Well, the current spin after the joint interviews of both candidates at the Saddleback Church is that John McCain might very well have cheated and heard some of the questions asked of Barack Obama.
It’s understandable. After all, in 2004 John Kerry was caught cheating at one debate, and nothing ever came of that.
But that’s not the real question here. The question should not be “why did John McCain do so well?” After all, McCain has shown, time and again, that he’s very, very good in this kind of format.
No, the real question is “why did Barack Obama do so badly?”
Everyone has been talking about how Obama bobbled badly over the abortion question. He had an opportunity to make a principled stand for his position, to present his arguments in a forum where, let’s be honest, it would not be welcomed, but would be tolerated politely. Pastor Warren was not going to engage in a debate on the matter, and the audience was not about to turn into a lynch mob. Instead, he flailed and hemmed and hawed and evaded.
That wasn’t the only one, but it was the msot glaring.
Let’s assume that McCain did, indeed, hear the questions as they were asked of Obama. Every single one. What good would it have done him?
Damned little, I think. He went onstage as soon as Obama finished. He (with staff help, I presume) would have had to simultaneously formulate responses for the earlier questions and commit them to memory while listening to the latter ones. For McCain to pull that kind of stunt off would be, if nothing else, a testament to a phenomenally sharp and agile mind, a near-photographic memory, and a lightning-quick wit — all of which is in stark contrast to the “doddering, dotty old man” stereotype being pushed against him.
No, that doesn’t pass Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is that the format at the Church is one that McCain is far more comfortable with and competent at handling. Obama has shown, on numerous occasions, that he gets stumble-mouthed when speaking off the cuff, often saying what he thinks the audience wants to hear rather than sticking with the simple facts.
I’d even go so far to speculate that part of the reason that Obama has so much trouble just letting go and speaking from his heart is because, at his heart, he has no core convictions to guide him. He has no experience in taking a stand on principle, on stating his rock-solid principles and sticking to them. In an environment like he faced at Saddleback, with an interviewer as skillful and insightful as Pastor Warren, he had no ready way to stick to the prepared remarks and instead had to rely on his own wits — and they failed him.
So, did McCain “cheat” at Saddleback? Possibly. It was phenomenally stupid and inept of him to be late to the “cone of silence” room, leaving open this speculation. But it just doesn’t pass the common-sense test. Cheating in the way described offered McCain very little gain (as I noted above, he’s very good at this format, and Obama isn’t) at great risk — breaking his word to someone of Pastor Warren’s standing and reputation would be a major blow to McCain’s standing with the religious base of the Republican party. More than anything else, it would be stupid.
But it does give the Obama apologists something to talk about besides how their guy did so badly on Saturday night.