Rick Warren cancels presidential civility forum due to ... candidates' incivility

He’s superficially evenhanded in his criticism, singling neither of them out while concluding, “It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day.” But lest you doubt which side he’s really peeved at, note that he’s replacing the civility forum with a forum devoted to religious freedom. Quote:

Q. You said you canceled the presidential civil forum because of the negativity and a larger issue. What is that?

A. It is the crumbling of our constitution’s first guaranteed freedom: the freedom of religion. This issue is more significant and has far greater implications for America’s future. People have forgotten that America was founded by people who came here to escape religious persecution. Freedom of religion is the first freedom mentioned in the Bill of Rights – before freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and every other freedom.

And yet today, at the city, the state, and the federal levels, government bureaucrats are daily trying to limit that freedom, impose restrictions, and stifle expressions of faith on campuses, in hospitals, and in businesses. There are widespread attempts to redefine the First Amendment to simply mean “You are free to believe anything at your place of worship but you are not free to practice your conscience elsewhere.”…

President Obama’s policies clearly show what he values and I have told him that I adamantly disagree with those particular policies. I have not talked about this issue with Governor Romney, but I would imagine that as a Mormon he’d obviously understand the importance of protecting all religions against persecution, and ensuring people’s rights to practice their conscience without government intervention.

Go figure that The One wasn’t eager to sit down with him in a televised interview 10 weeks before the election and be quizzed on why he can’t carve out a conscience exemption to his contraception mandate for Catholic-affiliated health-insurance plans. The last place this guy wants to be on the eve of a four-day seminar on the “war on women” and the glories of “choice” at the Democratic convention is face to face with a famous evangelical leader. In fact, according to sources who spoke to CNN, the civility forum wasn’t canceled because Warren is disgusted with both sides, it was canceled because neither candidate wanted to take the risk of doing it. Said a source close to Mitt’s campaign, “We were never going, ever. We offered to do a video.” Romney would face at least two major risks in a format like that. One: Warren might grill him specifically on his prior support for abortion rights. Mitt’s answered that question a million times before but I’m sure he doesn’t want any fresh reminders at a moment when he’s asking the conservative base to turn out for him. Two: More generally, Romney’s desperate to turn the campaign back towards the economy and bread and butter issues and a high-stakes exchange on “values” cuts directly against that, especially at a moment when Obama’s trying to make the election into a culture war to distract from his record. For instance, given all the attention to Akin lately, he’d practically be guaranteed a question on whether there should be an exception for rape in abortion bans. How eager do you think he is to field that one? Hint, hint.

As for Warren’s point about the negativity of the campaign, fair enough, but it’s worth noting that more voters now think Obama’s attacked Romney unfairly (44 percent) than vice versa (40 percent). In fact, take two minutes and read this fascinating piece at The Hill noting the surprising success Romney’s had with his ad pointing out the sleaziness of the infamous Obama Super PAC steelworker cancer ad. I never would have guessed that voters paid close enough attention to ads to care which ones are fair and which aren’t, but yep, they do. And it sounds like Romney’s doing some damage to Bambi’s hopey-changey image by pointing out just how unfair he’s been.