The title of Fred Barnes’ piece says it all: “Paging Rick Warren: Why Did a Town Hall Debate in Nashville Revolve Around What Interests an East Coast Newsman?” 

The first reference is to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California, the author of the best-selling The Purpose-Driven Life, who held a forum for Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain in August.

The second reference is to last Tuesday’s debate, where voters got to see two candidates on autopilot and learned nothing new about either of them.

“The problem was the questions, chosen from thousands on the Internet and others from the 80 undecided voters assembled in a college arena in Nashville, Tenn. No doubt there were some questions that would have surprised McCain and Obama or caught them off-guard or forced a moment on candor. But those weren’t asked.”

Barnes wanted to hear about abortion, immigration, moral values, same sex “marriage,” guns, their role models, their views of the presidency, or their religious faith. But these issues that nearly everyone cares about weren’t mentioned.

By contrast, Barnes recalls some of Warren’s far better questions (for a helpful side-by-side comparison of answers, click here).

What is your greatest moral failure and what is America’s?
What have you changed your mind on?
What was your toughest decision?
What does your faith and your trust in Jesus Christ mean to you on a daily basis?
When does life begin?
What’s your definition of marriage?
Does evil exist?
What is worth sacrificing American lives for?

— Tom Hoopes