Last night I took the opportunity to watch Barack Obama and John McCain each spend an hour being interviewed by megachurch pastor Rick Warren. Overall, I thought Warren did a good job of asking interesting and fair questions, and I thought both candidates acquitted themselves well, although I thought it was clear that McCain was mainly interested in segueing from Warren’s questions to his own talking points, whereas Obama seemed more interested in giving thoughtful answers to the questions that were asked.
Warren asked both candidates the same set of questions — Obama went first but McCain didn’t get to hear Obama’s answers before he had his turn. If I had to pick one question that pretty directly illustrates the differences between these two candidates, it was Warren’s audience-submitted question on evil.
Q: How about the issue of evil? I asked this of your rival in the previous thing. Does evil exist, and if so, should we ignore it, negotiate with it, contain it or defeat it?
A: Defeat it. Couple points, one, if I’m President of the United States, my friends, if I have to follow him to the gates of Hell, I will get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice. I will do that and I know how to do that. I will get that done. No one should be allowed to take thousands of American — innocent American lives. Of course evil must be defeated. My friends, we are facing the transcendent challenge of the 21st century, radical Islamic extremists. Not long ago in Baghdad, Al-Qaeda took two young women who were mentally disabled and put suicide vests on them, sent them into a marketplace and by remote control, detonated those suicide vests. If that isn’t evil, you have to tell me what is and we’re going to defeat this evil and the central battleground according to David Petraeus and Osama bin Laden is the battles — is Baghdad, Mosul, and Iraq and we are winning and we are succeeding and our troops will come home with honor and victory and not in defeat and that’s what’s happening. We have — and we face this threat throughout the world. It’s not just in Afghanistan. Our intelligence people tell us Al-Qaeda continues to try to establish cells here in the United States of America. My friends, we must face this challenge. We can face this challenge and we must totally defeat it and we’re in a long struggle, but when I’m around the young men and women who are serving this nation in uniform, I have no doubt, none.
And here’s Obama:
Q: Okay we’ve got one last time — I’ve got a bunch more but let me ask you one on evil. 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?
A: 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 is God’s task. But we can be soldiers in 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.
Q: In the name of good?
A: 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.