Faith-based hope in tonight's debate

This season's presidential election debates have been something of a letdown from a variety of perspectives. One area is a lack of discussion about religion. Feel free to disagree, but I believe that one's religion informs a person's public policy to varying degrees.

In a debate last night between Indiana's gubernatorial candidates, a question was dedicated solely to the candidate's religion and values. For me, it informed the discussion and the background of the candidates.

Maybe tonight (see transcript here) will make up for the previous debates being fairly unmemorable. Maybe there will be more direct references to religion. Then again, maybe not.

Once again, this blog will focus on the religious aspects of the debate. Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts.

9:07 PM: We got from relatively detailed discussions about economic plans to Obama's conversation with a plumber named Joe in Iowa.

9:11 PM: A lot of discussion about small businesses, increasing taxes, lowering taxes, 95 percent of Americans and Warren Buffett.

9:17 PM: McCain says we have to stop sending a bunch of billions of dollars "to countries who don't like us very much." This is one of McCain's favorite lines. I wonder how those "countries who don't like us very much" feel about those comments. McCain is never specific about which countries he is referring to, but I imagine many people think of the Middle East even thought the United States receives a lot of oil from Venezuela due to its close location.

9:22 PM: Obama just noted that he supports charter schools.

9:25 PM: The candidates are asked to discuss the nasty attitude of their campaigns. The moderator in a round about way is asking Obama and McCain to ask each other for forgiveness.

9:26 PM: McCain doesn't like being associated with America's history of racism and asks Obama to repudiate those remarks. Basically: Obama says you're sorry.

9:28 PM: Obama doesn't say sorry and says that McCain started it. McCain looks angry.

9:32 PM: Obama says that Rep. Lewis inappropriately drew a comparison between what happened during this campaign and the civil rights movement. Obama says that American politics should move onto the serious differences between the candidates and stop focusing on the "tit-for-tat."

9:34 PM: We're still talking about what people yell at campaign rallies. I'm not sure what the candidates are trying to accomplish here.

9:35 PM: Obama says that we can disagree without being disagreeable. I think my parents tried to teach me that in the third grade.

9:38 PM: Obama details his relationship with a former terrorist and McCain says that that relationship matters a lot along with a group known as ACORN that McCain thinks may be undermining the country's democracy.

9:40 PM: A discussion of running mates begins. I wonder if either candidate will say their candidate is less qualified than the other candidate. What a great question.

9:41 PM: Obama thinks Joe Biden is awesome.

9:43 PM: McCain says Sarah Palin understands the average American.

9:48 PM: McCain and Obama both want to stop importing oil from the Middle East and Venezuela.

9:55 PM: Free trade with South American countries: Obama suggests he wants to reconsider that and McCain thinks that's a bad idea.

9:56 PM: The questions shift to healthcare. Obama says this is the issue that will break your heart over and over again.

9:59 PM: McCain says that we need physical fitness programs in schools and workplaces. I wonder if Obama would counter and say that his faith-based initiative would support putting gyms in churches. I doubt that will come up anytime in the next three weeks though.

10:05 PM: McCain says something about healthcare plans that provide for cosmetic surgeries. Those are bad.

10:06 PM: Roe v. Wade question regarding nominations to the Supreme Court.

10:06 PM: McCain says Roe v. Wade was a bad decision, the abortion decision should rest with the states, he doesn't support a litmus test, judges should be appointed based on qualifications, and his Gang of 14 was an excellent thing to do that Obama didn't do. McCain also says Obama voted against Justice Breyer. Um, that's because he wasn't in the Senate then.

10:08 PM: Responding to a follow-up, McCain says that he does NOT believe that a candidate's support for Roe v. Rade would be part of a justice candidate's qualifications.

10:09 PM: Obama says the most important thing for a justice is fairness and he wouldn't impose a litmus test. The justice appointments are the most important decisions the next president will make and that Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance. Obama says that Abortion is a difficult issue and a moral issue that good people on both sides can disagree with. Ultimately Obama believes that women in consultation with their doctors are in the best position to decide. The right to privacy shouldn't be subject to state referendum just like the many other rights we have are not subject to popular vote. Obama says he will look to judges who are smart, have experience in the real world.

9:11 PM: Obama rightly says that Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance and that the justice appointments will be the most significant decision.

9:12 PM: McCain brings up Obama's votes in the Illinois state senate regarding abortion and his vote against a partial birth abortion ban. More on this later.

9:13 PM: Obama denies that he opposed a bill that would provide healthcare to an infant. Obama says the legislation would help undermine Roe v. Wade and that the law was redundant.

9:13 PM: Obama says he supports a complete ban on late-term abortions as long as there is an exception for the life and health of the mother. Obama should be asked to define what he means by life and health of the mother.

9:14 PM: Obama then says there is common ground when both those who believe in choice and those who are opposed to abortion can come together and says we should prevent unintended pregnancies.

This is the first serious discussion about Roe v. Wade in these presidential debates. Why is this question only coming up now? Neither candidate's answer is all that satisfying. McCain wants the issue to be put to the states for votes. That fails to address the issue that some people believe that life begins sometime before birth since some states would legalize abortions. Obama wants to reduce abortions but wants the Supreme Court to continue to say that the Constitution to makes the right to an abortion superior to that of the life interest represented by the pro-life position.

One thought on the brief abortion discussion: neither candidate wanted to talk about it and said little new in terms of revealing additional details regarding their positions.

Final statements: McCain asks voters to consider which candidate they can trust most as "stewards." Obama says that the American people are fundamentally decent.

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