Thursday, August 21, 2008

Greatest Moral Failure

On August 16, 2008 at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, there was an event hosted by Pastor Rick Warren wherein he interviewed presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

I found text copies of transcripts here as well as the Certified Final Transcript in PDF (it is 87 pages, 195 Kb).

The second question asked Senator Obama was "What would be, looking back over your life -- everybody's got wings, nobody's perfect -- would be the greatest moral failure in your life and what would be the greatest moral failure of America?"

Just for sake of comparison the second question asked Senator McCain was "What's been your greatest moral failure and what has been the -- what do you think is the greatest moral failure of America?"

Senator Obama's answer was (quoting):

Well, in my own life, I'd break it up in stages. I had a difficult youth. My father wasn't in the house. I've written about this. You know, there were times where I experimented with drugs and I drank in my teenage years. And what I trace this to is a certain selfishness on my part. I was so obsessed with me and, you know, the reasons that I might be dissatisfied that I couldn't focus on other people. And, you know, I think the process for me of growing up was to recognize that it's not about me, it's about (... interrupted ...) It's about -- absolutely. So -- so -- but look, the -- when I -- when I find myself taking the wrong step, I think a lot of the times it's because I'm trying to protect myself instead of trying to do God's work.

I think America's greatest moral failure in my lifetime has been that we -- we still don't abide by that -- that basic precept in Matthew that whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me.
Senator McCain's answer (quoting):
My greatest moral failing, and I have been a very imperfect person, is the failure of my first marriage. It's my greatest moral failure.

I think America's greatest moral failure has been throughout our existence, perhaps we have not devoted ourselves to causes greater than our self-interest, although we've been the best at it of anybody in the world.
This is a difficult question for me. And it is not for lack of possibilities because I have a rich and varied assortment of moral failures from which to choose. I have even more if I include sins of omission as well as sins of commission. I have way more than that if I include thoughts and intentions of my heart.

I admire McCain's answer. No hem hawing around. Just said it right out - something specific, too.

I know what mine is: I got out of being drafted by getting into the National Guard. That's mine.

It isn't difficult for me to find the one thing that bothers me most. It is just difficult for me to admit to it even now after 38 years have passed.

I played all sorts of games with myself to find another failure. But they were surely games that I was inventing trying to justify myself in some way or another. Like back then I had a more practical moral code, i.e., if I wanted to do it then it was good. So it wasn't really a moral failure. Well, that is just B.S. because even then I knew it was wrong. You can tell if you would just as soon not have people you love know about it.

I have plenty of others that I would like to keep to myself. Some are pretty bad. But the thing that bothers me the most is getting in the Guard. And the Guard was and is a very good institution.

I agree with McCain that the United States has often failed to reach high enough. I think that is not the greatest moral failing though.

I suspect it is our failure to understand the essentials of our own culture and then to transmit that understanding to our heirs. Maybe I'm wrong though.

Looks like soon I'll be able to post about how wrong I was about vice-presidential candidates. Obama is supposed to make an announcement this week. Doesn't look good for my pick for him. We'll see.

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