The attention-driven Warren

The power play we saw at Saddleback proves that when it comes to self-regard the difference between preachers and politicians is a matter of style, but not degree.

Published August 18, 2008 5:20PM (EDT)

"It's not about you."

That is the first line of Rick Warren's mega-selling, self-help, orthodoxy-lite book, "The Purpose-Driven Life." Funny, but that forum Saturday night with the two major presidential nominees sure looked like it was a lot about Rick Warren.

Warren talked about how both men are his friends. He often spent longer on questions than he needed to. He made a big fuss taking photos, first, with him and Obama, then with Obama and McCain, and then just with McCain.

It was more than a glory-shot moment for Warren. It was his evangelical moonshot.

And the message as he bounded around in his moon boots? Move over James Dobson and the rest of you haters: The mantle of Billy Graham and Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell has been passed to a new generation of leaders, and that new generation is me.

Anybody who thinks this new generation of evangelical preachers cares about nothing more than serving God is really deluding himself. (There are plenty of missions to go work on where television sets and book agents are nowhere to be found.) And just because their images are softened by jeans and patterned shirts, or they dial back the amount of scriptural references in their sermons while increasing the tempo for the music numbers that pepper their services, doesn't mean they abhor power and attention. In fact, some of them seem to crave it as much, if not more, than the politicians that, sadly and increasingly, they feel entitled to grill in public forums.

I guess in a literal sense Warren means it when he says it isn't about you. It's about him.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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