Never gonna give you up, Lord!

Barack Obama and John McCain’s bifurcated debate Saturday at the megachurch of doughy “The Purpose Driven Life” author Rick Warren put a spotlight on just how far two presidential candidates will go to hump a leg.

The Saddleback Civil Forum, as it was called, featured McCain and the O-bomb answering an hour’s worth of questions from mutual “friend” Warren, the founder of California’s Saddleback McChurch. Barack went first in a one-on-one with the pastor, after which McCain emerged from his “cone of silence” to contend with identical questions that were at turns negative, leading and arm-twisting: What is your greatest moral failure? Define marriage. When is a stem cell entitled to human rights? And the like.

Through questions like these, Warren played these potential presidents like string instruments. At best, his questions gave the candidates free reign to belch up their trustiest talking points. More frequently, however, this grilling had the effect of causing McCain and Obama to be seen as consenting to nothing less than a religious test for their right to hold office.

For example: at the 15 minute mark of the McCain half of the inquisition, Warren asked the Senator, “How does faith work in your life on a daily basis?” Now, if your impression of McCain doesn’t already tell you that this man does not spend a lot of time on his knees, or if you haven’t read Matt Taibbi’s excellent Rolling Stone article on how vulgar John McCain actually finds professions of faith to be, then McCain’s sigh and the look on his face as he answers says it all.

“It means I’m saved and forgiven.” McCain exhales, doing his best not to sound like a man for whom Christ is a guy you consult only when life hands you a shit sandwich, and not everyday like Google. You really feel for John here. Warren is Eli Sunday, slapping around a captive Daniel Plainview, asking him if he wants the blood. Perhaps this interrogation is what caused McCain to lead into a story about his captivity and torture in the Hanoi Hilton. To Warren, McCain’s tale of crumbs of mercy from an allegedly Christian Viet Cong was probably an inspiring tale of Christ’s small miracles. To anyone who recognized the contrast between grizzled warrior McCain and the coddled faith guru, the message couldn’t have been more plain: on the worst day of your life, the God you worship will still keep you tied to a chair with your biceps stretched to the tearing point. Ruminate on that in your next book, you fucking butter sculpture.

Obama’s responses to Warren’s questions were, as is his manner, a bit zestier and nuanced, as opposed to McCain’s wholesale, teeth-gritting sellout. Obama’s was a negotiation with an audience whose understanding of Chritianity, and therefor the importance of material wealth, runs an angstrom deep, and who thus would be easily spooked by an inappropriate response to Warren’s insistance that Obama define the word “rich” in the context of taxation. A bestselling author, celebrity and phony daring the next president of the United States to suggest that he’s not pulling his load? That is rich.

Obama, to his credit, zinged Warren about his book sales, but stopped well short of reminding the avarice-sympathetic audience that almost none of them will ever walk the marbled halls of the very well off, and that anyway their god wore sandals and probably had lice. Obama had to assure them that, under his plan, people making over $250,000 a year will pay only a “modest” tax increase. Unmentioned was how much blood is sucked from the masses every year by jes’ plain folks like the owners of Wal-Mart who cripple our manufacturing sector in order to achieve the sleight of hand that are their “everyday low prices”. These are the people who will feel the sting of Obama’s tax increases like a rhinoceros horn in the kidney, the brethren Warren is really batting for. But to point that out would have been too esoteric for people who attend a church rigged with lasers.

So instead, Obama parried with questions like, “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?” as if this were somehow a sensible inquiry, a question that he himself might be presented with in a daily briefing one day. “Sir, satellite imagery shows a build-up of Evil in Eastern Buttfuckistan, and we believe Evil may be planning something big for the Rose Bowl!”

In an age of the War on Terror, before an assembled throng of people for whom religion requires the trappings of a dolphin ballet at Marineland, Obama actually had to tell his audience that evil does, in fact, exist, and that he will “confront it squarely,” but that we must “have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil.”

The issue? Is Obama planning to actually campaign on the subject? How far has statesmanship fallen that the potential leader of the free world would actually debase himself by humoring such an outrageously monkey-brained question at all, much less spin out the broad strokes of an actual agenda for combating evil by name??

When the red-staters complained of moral relativism, is this where they saw the argument going? Both political parties pandering to a kindergartner’s level of conversation about the very real challenges a nation faces in a complex world?

It says something about just how doofy politics has become that even this wasn’t simplistic enough for some right-wingers. In his column today, Bill Kristol commented of Obama’s response that, “Here as elsewhere, Obama stayed at a high level of abstraction […] while Obama talked of confronting evil, McCain spoke of defeating it.”

So Obama is the rarified one when he speaks of evil as if it were an ectoplasm that could be offset by some manner of “evil credits”, whereas McCain is the realist when he pledges to vanquish evil, a feat we usually associate with hobbits? Would somebody please stop this motherfucking nation, because I really do need to get off.

I personally don’t know how Bill Kristol is going to make up his mind on Election Day.  It sounds like both the Republican and the Democrat are running for Bush’s third term.