Saddleback’s Leaky “Cone of Silence”

Fans of Get Smart will, of course, recall that the awkwardly impractical “cone of silence” at Control headquarters almost never functioned properly. In fact, the recurring gag’s hilarity came from painfully demonstrating the various ways in which the comically defective technology would inevitably screw up thereby rendering it completely useless.

How fitting then to learn that things apparently weren’t all that much different at the old Saddleback megalo-church yesterday.

As alluded to here previously, the way in which McCain almost preemptively answered a lot of the questions, quite uncharacteristically for him, without hesitation — in fact, before Warren had even finished posing them — does seem to lend some degree of credence to the rumour floated by Andrea Mitchell on Meet the Press this morning that maybe there was some funny business going on with Warren’s “cone of silence” — which, as it turns out, was just an offstage “green room” with no broadcast feed. Whoop-di-doo. They should have kept him in a plexiglass tank where we could keep and eye on him… Or possibly in a booth to one side of the stage. After all, Warren did say before the forum that it was going to be “just like a game show.”

But you know me, I don’t usually subscribe to far fetched conspiracy theories, so the fact that McCain hadn’t even arrived at the Saddleback for about half an hour into the forum and the fact that it was all being broadcast live on the radio doesn’t necessarily mean anything at all. If John McCain’s people, many of whom used be Kark Rove’s operatives, say that he didn’t cheat, then I’m perfectly willing to take his spokesthingees at their word. I mean, it’s not like they’d actually lie about anything, is it? Who ever heard of anything so completely absurd? Morever, John McCain, as we’re repeatedly told, is a man of honour and he would certainly never lie, despite what Ann Coulter says. Who listens to that lunatic crank anyway? Oh, yeah… half the Blogging Tories. Well, never mind that.

Okay, seriously… I really doubt McCain “cheated” and even if he did, well big deal. It’s not like just about any sentient person couldn’t have seen most of those questions coming in one form or another from a mile away. Given the broad outlines of the “themes” had been sketched out for the candidates beforehand, it wouldn’t take much imagination to fill in the details. Besides, both these guys (and their teams) are pros at “debate” preparation and trying to figure out what possible questions the politicos might conceivably ask of them in all likelihood. And really, what difference would it really make in the end? Stylistic differences aside, the two candidates’ positions on issues like abortion, judicial appointments, stem cell research, etc. are what ultimately defined them in the eyes of evangelicals, who were supposedly the primary audience.

I do have one rather dumb hypothetical question though. Seeing as McCain was running late for whatever reason, what do you think would have happened if he’d lost the backstage coin toss and had been slated to go first? Something to think about.

Update: Hang on a second. If McCain wasn’t there, how could they conduct the coin toss? Silly me. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that in the first place before asking the previous hypothetical question. I’m sure there’s some great, totally convincing explanation for that too.

Update2: More tests of your faith here. This time, about McCain’s heartfelt “cross in the sand” story that may or may not be genuine, but in any case, as TBogg notes, is a heckuva lot better than the one McCain was telling the boys down at the VFW.


A great day for Victoria and the Island. Oh, and Canada too, of course.

Show below, the Victoria City Rowing Club boathouse and Elk Lake.

Relapsed Human

Pictured: Metaphorical depiction of Kathy Shaidle’s mental state.

“What I did not expect is her complete, total and utter maliciousness.” — Jason Cherniak

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

The Great Pandering

As expected, there was pandering aplenty in yesterday’s Saddleback forum and it’s difficult to say which was the most egregious example, but as something of a military history buff, one that struck me as particularly salient was contained in the very first words out of John McCain’s mouth. Asked by Pastor Warren who were the three wisest people that the candidate knew that they would rely on heavily in their administration, without hesitation, McCain said:

“First one I think would be General David Petraeus. One of the great military leaders in American history, who took us from defeat to victory in Iraq. One of the great leaders.”

Oh, puh-leeze. Gen. Patreas may well be a very fine man in many respects; an astute observer of counterinsurgency techniques and perhaps even a relatively competent field commander. Without doubt, he’s an obviously intelligent man capable of marshaling vast arrays of charts and graphs whenever needed, of delivering compelling Powerpoint presentations and adroitly finessing his way through congressional hearings with Panglossian aplomb, but come on… “one of the great military leaders in American history”? That’s a bit rich, to say the least.

In 2004, the general’s pacification of Mosul was widely regarded as “a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way” to quote Newsweek, but just four months later, the police chief installed by Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Shortly afterwards, Mosul became “an insurgent stronghold” according to the Pentagon’s own report. So much for that.

As commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq, responsible for training, equipping, and mentoring the country’s growing Army, Police, and other security forces, according to former Interim Iraq Governing Council member Ali Allawi, officials routinely embezzled most, if not all, of the procurement budget of the army right out from under the nose of Gen. Patreus and his security transition command. In August of 2007, it was reported that the Pentagon had lost track of approximately 30 per cent of the weapons supplied to Iraqi security forces and the GAO determined that the weapons distribution was haphazard, rushed, and did not follow established procedures — particularly from 2004 to 2005, when training was led by Petraeus and Iraq’s security forces began to see combat in places like Najaf and Samarra.

Since assuming command of US forces in Iraq in the spring of 2007, Patreaus is now more commonly associated with the “troop surge” that, not coincidentally, John McCain also staked his career on. This temporary escalation of force provided the Americans with “tactical momentum” (as Patreus put it) that, together with Iraqi troops taking an increasing vital role in pacification and counterinsurgency operations has, by most accounts, been a “success” — at least according to the benchmarks set out by Congress — and is credited with turning around American fortunes in Iraq. How much of the success of the “surge” to date can be attributed to purely military factors however is open to question. The roles played by the widespread bribery of Sunni chieftains in the so-called “Sunni awakening” and the political calculations of Moktada al-Sadr certainly can’t be ignored, nor can the institutionalized ethnic expulsions and extensively walled “ghettoization” in Baghdad be discounted in achieving the “astonishing signs of normalcy” touted by boosters of the surge like John McCain.

I suppose determining who qualifies as “one of the great military leaders in American history” very much depends on your definition of “great” and in this respect, I’ll just throw out some names of past American generals that, to my mind at least, fall more comfortably in this category: George Washington; John “Black Jack” Pershing; George C. Marshall; Robert E. Lee; Ulysses S. Grant; Omar Bradley; Douglas MacArthur; Dwight D. Eisenhower; and, of course, George S. Patton.

Does David H. Patreus fit in with that roster of great American military leaders? Not by many miles, I’d say. For Sen. John McCain, a man who relentlessly exploits his record of military service for political advantage, purports to be some kind of an “expert” in such matters, and arrogantly boasts that he knows “how to win wars” (notwithstanding his own ignominious record of having finished near the bottom of his class at West Point, crashing planes into power lines and being a prisoner of war) to have made that ludicrous claim, indicates a truly mind-blowing level of ignorance, cynicism and/or utter stupidity.

Faith Down: Most Defining Moment

In what might possibly be regarded in many ways as the most clearly “defining moment” from yesterday’s forum at the Saddleback mega-church, Pastor Rick Warren asked each candidate: “Does evil exist, and if so, do we ignore it, do we negotiate with it, do we contain it, or do we defeat it?”

The difference of the two responses couldn’t have been more vivid and perhaps says a great deal about each of the candidates and their worldview.

Putting it down in writing perhaps illustrates the contrast even more strikingly:


Evil does exist. I mean, 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 have viciously abused 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’s God’s task. But we can be soldiers I 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, but you know, a lot of evil has been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil… in the name of good. And I think one thing that’s very important is having some humility in recognizing that, you know, just because we think our intentions are good, doesn’t always mean that we’re going to be doing good.


Defeat it.

There in a nutshell, for better or worse, is the difference between “liberals” and so-called “conservatives” in my opinion.

Note: In honesty, I’ve cheated a bit there (as did Fox News and/or the editor of the YouTube video), because shortly after waiting for the rousing applause to die down, McCain followed up his response by delivering his now standard spiel about chasing Bin Laden to the “gates of Hell.”

Faith Down: Impressions

For people already decided about one candidate or another, the Saddleback forum probably won’t do anything to change their minds. If anything, it might just have served to confirm or reinforce their convictions about each man.

The two candidates took markedly different approaches. Obama seemed to treat his time as an intimate personal conversation with Warren, looking directly at the pastor when he spoke and only rarely turning to the crowd. He talked a lot about his faith — at one point quoting from the New Testament — and spoke eloquently about how it informs his life and politics. Although borrowing occasionally from his campaign speeches, for the most part he seemed to be extemporizing and was clearly attempting to process the various implications of Warren’s questions. Overall, he came off as thoughtful and genuine, although, it has to be said, not terribly engaging.

McCain was much more gregarious, essentially turning the event into a town hall. He usually spoke directly to the audience, punctuating about every fifth sentence with his catchphrase “my friends.” Clearly uncomfortable talking about his faith, McCain avoided being personal by stringing together jokes and anecdotes — which seemed to play well with the crowd (several commenters at LGF noted that he would the better guy to have a beer with because he had “neat stories”) — together with material from his stump speech. Compared to Obama, who generally spoke in long, nuanced sentences and made subtle points, McCain was much more direct and a lot of his answers sounded pretty stilted and canned. Several times he interrupted Warren to answer a question with a quick, one-sentence response, suggesting perhaps that Saddleback’s “Cone of Silence” may have been inoperative, or at least a dubious concept.

I didn’t stick around for the pundits’ wrap-up because we went out for dinner straight afterwards, but following up later, the consensus seems to be that McCain was the clear “winner” of the event. Whether it’s right to think about winners and losers in a forum like this is debatable. In any case, each candidate had specific objectives and, for the most part, they seemed to achieve them. McCain will have buttressed support with evangelical Christians that had been lagging behind expectations and Obama may have dispelled the notion that he’s the anti-Christ incarnate — or worse, a Muslim.