Senator McCain and Senator Obama yesterday paid court to Rick Warren, the megachurch pastor and author of The Purpose-Driven Life. Hankering after evangelical voters, each man consented to be interviewed by Warren on stage, though the pastor didn't abuse his power so far as to force an impromptu debate.
I didn't go out of my way to watch the show, having little interest in what either candidate says about faith. But a review of the event caught my eye. Warren asked each man what he considered his own greatest moral failing and the nation's. For personal failings, McCain acknowledged the "failure" of his first marriage, while Obama lamented his youthful boozing and drug taking. For national failings, both men named sins of omission, Obama decrying "within his lifetime" a failure to do more for the disadvantaged, McCain chiding a reluctance to pursue agendas larger than one's own.
It struck me that these were very political answers, albeit not partisan ones. Both senators contented themselves with saying that the country had not done enough good things, but neither dared say that, even within the limited scope of Obama's lifetime, the country had actively done anything regrettable, or could be considered guilty of a moral offense. Warren may have expected nothing different, and may agree with his guests' complacency, but the rest of us should hold the aspirants to a higher standard. My standard as a historian isn't necessarily the highest, but when I apply it, I find both men guilty of moral failure on the megachurch stage.