Obama deliberative, McCain decisive

Published 10:50 am Monday, August 25, 2008

Pastor Rick Warren’s interview of Barack Obama and John McCain last week in his Saddleback Church in California has made a signal contribution to the presidential selection process. In the Saddleback forum, I feel Barack Obama was deliberative and John McCain was decisive. McCain’s quick answers took the risk of being misunderstood, and Obama’s maneuvering took the risk of being not understood. McCain gave simple answers to some complicated questions, and Obama offered nuances that often sounded evasive.

Whether these contrasts form a basis for a vote, I think depends upon what an individual wants in a president. Those already supporting one over the other can be expected to have found in their man’s answers, both in substance and manner, what attracted them to the candidate in the first place. When this happens, as it too often does, laudable efforts as this are a waste of time. They work when we learn something significant and usable from them.

While I watched Obama, I thought of myself when I was writing my doctoral dissertation. One examination committee member commented: “You have discussed at length every consideration that pertains to your subject and also anything that anyone else might think has some bearing on it, and you have explained exhaustively everything anyone might say in support of your hypothesis and also argued at length with everything anyone might say to counter it.” Initially, I took this as a compliment of how hard I had worked, but I caught on it was a complaint about how much unnecessary time I took from the committee. Only with a Ph.D. in hand and further professional accreditation in my field could I just assert my concepts and support them conclusively.

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I gained the impression Obama wasn’t very sure of himself and wanted to cover all bets. McCain, on the other hand, might be only too sure of himself and think he is a sure bet.

Rick Warren insightfully asked both: “Who are the three wisest people you know?” Obama paid tribute to his mother and grandmother as they reared him, but McCain shot off names of three people upon whom he would rely to advise him as president. I have been profoundly concerned about who would influence Obama in office, but I still don’t know. I must allow he may have misunderstood the question, but, then, understanding questions and giving helpful answers is presidential.

What should inform our voting decision is not just what was said at Saddleback that evening but what we can learn from it along with many other observations. How would Barack Obama perform as president? How would John McCain perform as president?

Some issues require long and labored deliberation, and decision must be restrained until enough facts are assembled and sufficient reasoning has been accomplished. Rash decision can destroy any possibility of solution. All the facts of other issues are on the table and reasoning was long ago completed. Delayed decision may have missed the opportunity for solution.

Any president needs the ability to recognize into which category an issue falls and then deliberate or decide accordingly. Any president needs the wisdom to understand realities and the courage to take decisive action. He needs to know when to think and when to act.

I submit the challenge facing voters is to decide which candidate meets, or best meets, such requirements. If you feel Obama will be tentative when he should decide, you risk voting for him. If you feel McCain would be conclusive when he should think a matter through, this is a different risk.

We have 14 days to deliberate, but on Sept. 9 we need to make our decision in the primaries.