"Only Democrats, it seems, reward their most loyal supporters - feminists, gays, liberals, opponents of the war, members of the reality-based community - by elbowing them aside to embrace their opponents instead."
President-Elect Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation is one that stumps me; it puzzles me; and it angers and annoys me. I would like to believe that Obama was trying to get Rick Warren in deep trouble with his evangelical colleagues - which it has - or that he did so in order to say that he is a "fierce advocate for gay and lesbian Americans" with a modicum of cover, or that he hopes to trade this symbolic gesture for a very real concession on gay rights issues like a reversal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy as Steven Waldman of Beliefnet (last Thursday's Talk of the Nation guest) suggests.
But I'm in the pack of the "some people" Neal Conan describes when he says, "Some people see it as a continuation. President Bush at his inauguration had some speakers, some evangelical speakers from the far right". Waldman responded,
"That's what makes this such a bold move by Obama. Bush had Franklin Graham, as conservative evangelical, and the parallel thing for Obama to do, I guess, would have been to have a liberal preacher; and instead he has another conservative evangelical. So he's making a very different statement. Bush had picked someone who agrees with him. Obama is picking someone who disagrees with him on a lot of things. It obviously fits his theme of... ...working across party lines and with people you disagree with to achieve common goals. And I think it is an effort to depoliticize prayer, almost a spiritual bipartisanship."
First, I suppose it is a bold move by Obama; he won promising change and a departure from Bush - and instead he's sticking to the same path of highlighting evangelical preachers who preach intolerance and hate. That's fairly bold, although not the bold and fresh action I was looking for when I voted for the man. But perhaps my biggest problem with Waldman's take on this is that picking Warren is not depoliticizing prayer. Yes, this is a man who has criticized other evangelical pastors of being too political. But he is also a man who joined in the fight to pass Prop. 8 in California and who reiterated untruths like the idea that if Prop. 8 failed, preachers could be charged with hate crimes. That is a political stance, and it isn't one far enough in the past that picking Warren to speak as a definitive speaker comes across as depoliticizing spirituality. You know what could have done that? Picking a preacher who wasn't involved in politics for a while.
Mostly though, I feel as if Keith Olbermann has got my mood right:
"The idea of compromise, though, from the people who got Obama elected; for eight years under the current president, compromise has meant, in essence, everybody who is not on the far right needs to concede something to the far right and then they'll call it a compromise. So now the first compromise for president-elect Obama, and at least in this case, it is everybody who is not on the far right still needs to concede something to the far right and that's compromise. Setting aside the issue here, just focusing on the politics of this occasion, why shouldn't the left and much of the center be upset about this?"
This idea is echoed by Mike from Salem, Oregon, calling into Talk of the Nation on the 18th, when he said,
"I think I understand why Mr. Obama is doing this; he wants people to reconcile and reach toward the middle, and that's fine. But so far with his appointments, he's appointing people and he's asking the Left or the progressives to reach to the right and I'm looking for an appointment or some statement or something that'll ask the right to reach toward the middle - toward the left. And this certainly doesn't do that."
It certainly doesn't. I'm actually fairly happy with Obama's appointments so far. I know that there has been some contention about his appointing many Clintonites to posts instead of innovative and really progressive newcomers as both a way to infuse new ideas into the White House and to revolutionize Washington DC politics; but I feel like if you've got good, experienced Dems who can help you avoid the pitfalls they themselves stumbled over and into then that is who you appoint. I also understand that going too far to the left has been a problem for Democrats in the past and helped Dems lose seats in the Congress to Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution in 1996, and that one could say going too far to the Right helped cost Bush and the Republicans as well - though I would chalk some of that up to out and out stupidity. I understand the need for incremental movement in many areas, saving the seismic shifts for rare issues of importance; incremental movement is one of the reasons I like the electoral college. I even think that Keith Olbermann is not describing the true political climate but the overall feeling liberals have been experiencing for the past eight years - and I would say he would concede that as well. But it is the second of Mike from Salem Oregon's point that really gets me:
Mike from Salem, Oregon: If he's looking for reconciliation in more of a progressive approach toward religion, there are much better ministers and religious people who could be giving this invocation other than Rick Warren.Neal Conan: But not those who invited him to speak at his very politically powerful church in California.Mike from Salem, Oregon: That may be the case, but Obama is a very intelligent man... ... the presiding bishop if the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, she's very inclusive; and that's what we're looking for here, I think, is inclusiveness.
For too long a time now, I've felt like the Democratic Party was that pathetic not-cool kid in high school desperate to sit at the cool kids' table - the one who would abandon his long-time friends on a moment's notice after receiving a scrap of good will from one of the popular students, the kid who would slink back to his table and to his deserted friends after the popular kids tripped him down a flight of stairs. The Evangelicals are not going to like the Democrats; and inviting someone like Rick Warren, a man who has compared homosexuals to perpetrators of incest and pedophiles, a man whose church perpetuates the idea that a woman should be subject to her husband instead of equal to him, a man who believes that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, to speak at Obama's inauguration is going to do nothing to change that. What it does do is spit in the face of those who voted for Obama - the gays, the women, those who respect scientific thought, etc.
Rick Warren may not be the worst evangelical; Warren has, as Steven Waldman writes in his defense of the man, reverse-tithed 90% of his income, living off of 10%. He cares about fighting poverty, and AIDs, and he is adamantly against torture. And I can see emphasizing that and reaching out to him through the White House on those issues; I can see meeting with him and working with him on issues of shared concern. I even think Rick Warren could do some good in those areas amongst his conservative crew. But just because the man isn't as far to the right on every issue as Pat Robertson or as odious as Rush Limbaugh does not mean inviting him to speak on a day that celebrates the signing in of a new President for all Americans since Rick Warren doesn't represent all Americans and is decidedly and vocally opposed to many of those Americans who helped carry Obama to victory in the first place. Compromise of this sort seems to be a compromise of principles instead of representing a rise above the political fray or politics as usual. Because unfortunately, the swill Warren has been spewing is politics as usual.