When I was little, I had a recurrent dream that there was a terrible earthquake. My father, his body a horse with wings, swooped down from the sky, kneeled so I could jump on his back and flew away just as the earth cracked open beneath me. It was my most comforting dream. I want to live in that world again. I want to live in John McCain's world. My father was a military man. My parents were friends of McCain's parents and lived in the same apartment building. My father's closest friend was Barry Goldwater, McCain's mentor. Those were the days when men were men, when the differences between good and evil were clear, when they knew where they stood on every issue, when life was less complicated, when there was an air of insouciance, no matter how difficult the issues.
I want to live in a world where Gen. David Petraeus and Meg Whitman, former chief executive of eBay, are the wisest people I know, where offshore drilling will help ease our energy crisis, where a guy stays in a Vietnamese prison camp even when told he could get out, and has great stories to tell. I want to live in a world where I was absolutely certain that life begins at conception, where a man is a maverick and stands up against his Senate colleagues when he disagrees with them, where the only thing to do with evil is defeat it, where a guy will follow Osama bin Laden to the gates of Hell to capture him.
I want to believe that our biggest enemy is radical Islamist terrorists. I want to be part of a world that doesn't have to raise taxes; where America is a beacon, a shining city on a hill; where our values are simply Judeo-Christian values; and where a man always puts his country first. I want to be one of "my friends."
By the time McCain finished his interview with pastor Rick Warren at the Saddleback Church in Orange County, California, Saturday night, part of a forum that also featured Barack Obama, I was curled up in a fetal position in my chair, wrapped in a mohair throw, practically sucking my thumb.
McCain did a great job of making me feel confident. He was clearly in his element at Saddleback, among supportive evangelical Christians, and he went a long way toward alleviating their fears about his inability to communicate with them in their own language.
Obama came first, and he handled himself well in front of an audience that clearly disagrees with him on many issues. He also managed to put to rest the notion that he is a Muslim, which 12 percent of Americans still believe he is. He talked directly to Rick Warren as though they were having a real conversation, whereas McCain played to the audience, rarely looking at Warren. He was low-key, thoughtful and nuanced.
That kind of nuance is hard to understand sometimes -- it's unclear, complicated. Obama's world can be scarier. It's multicultural. It's realistic (yes, there is evil on the streets of this country as well as in other places, and a lot of evil has been perpetrated in the name of good). It's honest. When does life begin? Only the antiabortionists are clear on that. For the majority of Americans (who are pro-choice), it is "above my pay grade," in Obama's words, where there is no hard and fast line to draw on what's worth dying for, and where people of all faiths have to be respected.
I would rather live in McCain's world than Obama's. But I believe that we live in Obama's world.
Afterward, the commentators talked abut how Obama needs to have better stories, to be more accessible and less aloof, and to have sharper, shorter, simpler answers rather than be so cerebral. But Obama is authentic. He is who he is. To try to change would be a mistake. Al Gore's handlers decided he was too stiff and tried to loosen him up. What they did was rob him of his authenticity instead.
This was not a debate. There was not a winner or a loser. The one sure winner was Rick Warren, who overnight changed the face of evangelicals in this country from the cartoon caricature of rigid, right-wing fundamentalists to one of open-minded, intelligent, concerned citizens. There were grumblings that the forum should not have been held in a church. But Warren managed to keep the religious aspect of the event to a minimum, including in his questions. And he followed his own advice, the lead sentence of his best-selling book "The Purpose-Driven Life." It wasn't all about him.
Now, can we have more of these events in Catholic churches, mosques, synagogues and ethical society meeting halls? Or would that be too much Obama's world?
The writer is a co-moderator, with Jon Meacham, of On Faith, an online conversation on religion.