When the first Thanksgiving Family Forum took place Saturday in Des Moines, approximately 3,000 people packed the auditorium at First Federated Church, more than 17,000 watched it live online, thousands more listened on the radio — and three of the six Republican presidential candidates cried. They also laughed — a lot.
Such was the nature of the questions asked by moderator Frank Luntz at an event designed to free the candidates of broad policy questions and timed responses that are usually part of presidential debates. Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum appeared to appreciate that approach.
But the Forum — hosted by THE FAMiLY Leader and cosponsored by CitizenLink and the National Organization for Marriage — was no debate.
The Forum “showed America something that almost always gets lost in presidential politics: These candidates are real, regular people who face the same challenges as the rest of us,” noted Focus on the Family President Jim Daly. “The sincerity and transparency of their responses to questions about their most meaningful life experiences, and the faith that shaped them, was remarkable to see and hear — such a dramatic departure from the usual array of debate sound-bites and glib gotchas. What an honor to be a part of an event that helps voters better understand what makes these people tick, what events shaped their lives and how they apply their values in the public square.”
Though some mainstream media outlets dismissed the Forum as being too “narrowly focused” on social issues, Kristi Hamrick, president of Gary Bauer’s Campaign for Working Families, said that format is exactly what is needed before the state caucuses get under way in January.
“Americans are watching debates more closely, and with greater interest, because the field is narrowing and questions need to be answered,” she said. “Normally, the social issues are treated like a throw-away line. This is unique in that the purpose of it was to explore the social issues, which are the things that really impact the base and change the character of the country. I think it’s interesting that some people tried to portray it as narrowly defined. If you had a debate focused on foreign policy or the economy, that would just be good government. But social policy is equally important, because it becomes a political issue through the intrusion of government.”
Listen to the special radio broadcast featuring Focus on the Family President Jim Daly and CitizenLink Executive Director Tom Minnery discussing the Forum.
Read Jim Daly’s blog about the Forum.