The CNN talking heads all thought the big difference between the two was that McCain came across as direct and forceful while Obama came across as thoughtful and nuanced, but that's not quite how it struck me.First of all, let me say that I think the whole idea of a nationally televised, ostensibly non-partisan campaign event held before a character like this (Rick Warren) as the moderator is ridiculous, and it is more of the same-- it's just like all the staged, biased, anti-liberal debates the Democrats willingly took part in, one after another, during the primary campaign. And there wouldn't have been an event like this moderated by a Catholic bishop or a Jewish rabbi, I'm sure.
For better or worse, Obama seems to have chosen to treat this event as sort of an intimate evening with Rick Warren — that just happened to be nationally televised. McCain, by contrast, treated it as a straight campaign event: he had his stump speech talking points ready, and he was eager to cram as many of them into his 50 minutes as possible.
I don't know if this was a good decision on Obama's part, but I don't have any doubt that he'll choose a much more direct speaking style at his three face-to-face debates with McCain.
Responding more directly to Kevin's and to CNN's comments, perhaps Obama felt it was important for him not to be seen as being overly confrontational with this person, and that's where Obama's style was coming from. I don't know if our side can profit from a lot of our politicians playing it the other way-- being overtly more critical of the religious right while everybody is paying attention-- but if a lot of conservative Christians aren't motivated to come out and vote on their issues this year, it seems like a reasonable conclusion to make that Obama wouldn't profit by poking the hornets' nest.
I've written before that I think Obama might be getting pushed around by the Republicans (that is, that they might be intimidating him into making some bad moves or spreading their propaganda here and there-- I thought perhaps the same thing was happening to Hillary during the primary). I didn't watch much at all of this event, so I don't know if Obama hit any icebergs I didn't see, but from what I watched he presented himself very well according to his normal style. If there was any pro-Republican or pro-conservative stuff in what I did see, I think it was very subtle, along the lines of being a little too careful about stepping on religious conservatives' toes (and thus giving the impression that everybody in our country quietly tip-toes around the Evangelicals).