Monday, December 22, 2008

Striving For The Cool Kid Table

"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.

17 comments:

mikhailbakunin said...

I think the Warren pick is really in keeping with Obama's theme of post-partisan reconciliation - of finding common cause, even if we disagree on some fundamental issues.

petpluto said...

My point is that it is fine if we have a common cause and to work with people in a postpartisan way on those common causes - but the inaugural invocation is not a common cause; it is a shared moment, and inviting someone who has so debased and insulted a group of people who do make up Obama supporters is insulting - and what's more, many of those supporters have been insulted in exactly the same way over the past 8 years by the same group of people. Just because it is our guy inviting this type of person to speak doesn't make that pastor's words any less incindiary or hurtful.

I fully believe that Obama is right to not invite a far left preacher or pastor just because Bush had a far right one. But how about one who is more toward the center on more issues than just poverty and AIDs? Is it so hard to find a preacher who doesn't believe women are subject to their husbands or that gay marriage is eqivalent to incest?

I'm all for Warren being a part of the solution to problems we do have a shared goal, but this doesn't count. This is putting a stamp of approval on the whole man, and not just those shared ideals. And that is what I have a problem with.

fourth wave said...

I completely agree with you and think this is a great post. It wouldn't be be too terribly difficult at all to find someone with a more inclusive background; seriously, there are plenty of open-minded centrist pastors/preachers out there, not to mention plenty of religious affiliations less bound to the maxim(s) of the conservative right. What making me even more furious right now is Pastor Warren's (very obvious, surface-level, concessionary) attempts to "appease" the gay community, not through a public apology, which would be an actual start (though I'm not sure I'd believe him), but by letting Melissa Etheridge speak for him as his token gay woman supporter and by quickly removing the clause on the Saddleback Church website about only accepting "repented homosexuals" into his church that Rachel Maddow discovered. And even those things, I think he's just trying to counteract bad publicity, not demonstrate genuine contrition about what he's said about women and gays.

There's a great diary entry over at The Daily Kos you might want to check out, about some people being unwilling to accept the anger of the gay community (among others) despite everything Pastor Warren stands for.

mikhailbakunin said...

You've also insisted (in other conversations) that opposition to gay marriage is inherently bigoted. But Obama himself has consistently opposed gay marriage. Maybe he should skip his own inauguration.

On a somewhat related note . . .

I'll never understand how liberals can be so upset about something like this, but still revere Bill Clinton - and think that it's totally acceptable for him to be such a prominent figure in the Democratic Party. Bill Clinton, who suborned his 23-year-old intern to commit perjury after he seduced her in the Oval Office, attempted to circumvent Federal Rules of Evidence that he signed into law (ostensibly to protect women from sexual abuse), slandered all the people who exposed the truth, and finally lied during a sworn deposition.

Why are immoral beliefs so much more devastating than immoral ACTIONS?

petpluto said...

"You've also insisted (in other conversations) that opposition to gay marriage is inherently bigoted. But Obama himself has consistently opposed gay marriage. Maybe he should skip his own inauguration."

Did he compare homosexual marriage to incest or pedophilia? Does he pastor a church that insists that man and dinosaur walked the earth together? Does he pastor a church that believes women are "less" than men? Does he compare pro-choicers to Nazis? Does he claim that every person who does not believe in his particular brand of religion is going to hell? No? Then I think he can come.

Every single person on this earth is prejudiced in some way or bigoted in some way; working through that is something I think we should all strive for. But the symbolism of inviting a man who has spate out such vitriolic statements and compared some of Obama's supporters to some of the worst criminals in the world is a whole different ball of wax. It is so much worse a statement to say "I believe gay marriage is equal to pedophilia" than to say "I don't believe in gay marriage", partially because of the historical untruth that gays (mostly gay men) were obviously pedophiles and were going to rape the little boys.

"Why are immoral beliefs so much more devastating than immoral ACTIONS?"

I'm going to quote Joe Biden here: "That's not change. That's more of the same." One of the reasons why I'm so upset about this (I won't go so far as to talk about why other liberals are peeved) is because it is this exact brand of hate-filled evangelicalism that has been so prominent these past 8 years. Inviting Rick Warren to give the invocation would have still been a blow based on the way his beliefs do debase women, gays, and scientific thought; but the absolute kicker is that these types of people have had the stage for 8 years. We have had to listen to their intolerance for 8 years. And I'm a big fan of Sorkin's soliloquy at the end of The American President, about acknowledging a man "standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours." But these people have been standing center stage - and with White House approval - for 8 years now. I was looking for a change up, for a White House approved pastor who isn't this. I'm not even talking about a pastor who would oppose all or any of Rick Warren's thoughts at the top of his or her own lungs. But a centrist would be good.

Plus, there is the fact that the Dems more than the Republicans tend to abandon their base(s). Again, the "cool kid table" syndrome.

As for Bill Clinton, I would assume that is because the man was at the very least a decent president, whose immorality and illegality had more to do with his failings as a person and human being than it did about his political thought. He screwed up; but what Rick Warren does is dehumanize huge parts of the nation. We can all assert that we wouldn't be Monica Lewinsky. But many of us know or have known or are people Rick Warren and his ilk perpetually assert are less than they are, and who want to maintain a hierarchy that keeps them at the top and everyone who doesn't fit their personal cookie cutter viewpoints on the bottom. And their beliefs about different groups of people are not just idle thoughts but thoughts that gain credence and acceptance - especially when they have the seal of approval from the White House. Because those thoughts do turn into (or already are) actions of intolerance.

mikhailbakunin said...

The heart of progressivism has always been moral outrage – over privilege, corruption, and intolerance. But Obama has never preached this kind of indignation; he’s always preached inclusion – respecting those with whom we disagree, even when we think they’re being intolerant or bigoted. The idea that certain groups have occupied the proverbial “stage” for too long directly contradicts Obama’s campaign message; he wants everyone to occupy the stage. I think he’s on to something. It’s inconsistent to espouse tolerance and then browbeat the intolerant. I understand what you’re saying – Obama doesn’t have to go out of his way to honor Warren by allowing him to deliver the invocation. But hasn’t Obama already honored the dude by attending Saddleback and by consistently praising him? I think a big part of Warren’s appeal – especially to Obama – is his tone. He believes homosexuality is immoral, but he doesn’t demonize gays. His central focus has always been cultivating discussion. So, I think characterizing Warren as “hate-filled” is way off the mark. The dude is a centrist, at least in the evangelical community.

To be honest, I still don’t understand why you find Obama’s intolerance of gay marriage acceptable (or, at least, discountable), but think that Warren’s intolerance of the homosexual lifestyle goes too far. It seems like you’re just arbitrarily deciding the appropriate degree of intolerance.

petpluto said...

"The idea that certain groups have occupied the proverbial “stage” for too long directly contradicts Obama’s campaign message; he wants everyone to occupy the stage."

That isn't the idea that I'm espousing. I'm espousing the idea that everyone actually gets to occupy the stage, and that at this point we should have a speaker who hasn't gotten to occupy the stage for a while. The fact is, Rick Warren occupying the stage doesn't allow for "everyone" to occupy the stage; it allows Rick Warren and his ideological ilk to occupy that particular stage to the exclusion of others. You can wax poetical about stage sharing, but unless the stage is actually shared, it is still the same people who have had the stage doing the same thing they have done before.

"He believes homosexuality is immoral, but he doesn’t demonize gays."

Yes he does. Comparing homosexual marriage and the acts within it to pedophilia is demonizing gays.

"The dude is a centrist, at least in the evangelical community. "

Being a centrist in the evangelical community is not the same as being a centrist.

"To be honest, I still don’t understand why you find Obama’s intolerance of gay marriage acceptable (or, at least, discountable), but think that Warren’s intolerance of the homosexual lifestyle goes too far. It seems like you’re just arbitrarily deciding the appropriate degree of intolerance."

1) I don't think that Obama's intolerance of gay marriage is acceptable. That doesn't mean that I don't see the difference between him and a man who compares gay marriage to incest or pedophilia. Both are bad, but one is obviously worse; to be honest, I don't truly understand how you can't see where the difference in those two stated views lies - or why I would have more of a problem with the second one.

2) The problem with Rick Warren is not just his stance on gays and gay rights, but women, science, and pro-choicers. The man is almost a full package.

"hasn’t Obama already honored the dude by attending Saddleback and by consistently praising him?"

Yes - and I had a bit of a problem with that as well. But I do think the stage upon which Warren will be presenting his invocation is what catapults this thing into the stratosphere. I can see reaching out to Warren and people like him; I can see working with him on matters such as poverty and AIDs. But when someone is invited to speak at an event such as this, it in essence throws the White House seal of approval on the man and not just Obama's seal of approval.

mikhailbakunin said...

Hey, I’m not the one who came up with the “stage” metaphor. : )

Again, what you’re saying doesn’t make sense to me. Obama isn’t surrounding himself with evangelicals to the exclusion of others voices. FAR from it. He’s allowing one relatively moderate evangelical to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Rev. Joseph Lowery – a prominent supporter of gay rights and gay marriage – is delivering the benediction.

People who are ideologically indistinguishable from Obama now dominate both houses of Congress and the Executive branch. And yet progressives are upset about one evangelical preacher delivering a nondenominational prayer. I think if anyone is being exclusionary here, it’s people on the political left – who seem to want social conservatives barred from any kind of ceremonial engagement.

petpluto said...

"He’s allowing one relatively moderate evangelical to deliver the invocation at his inauguration."

I don't think that calling Rick Warren relatively moderate is in any sense correct. He's not as far right in issues like poverty or AIDs prevention as other evangelicals, but he is still a prominent member of the far right. There may be actual relatively moderate evangelicals out there, but I don't think Rick Warren qualifies.

"I think if anyone is being exclusionary here, it’s people on the political left – who seem to want social conservatives barred from any kind of ceremonial engagement."

You know what? Social conservatives have the right to say what they want, but that doesn't mean they have the automatic right to say it where they want. I don't see how not wanting a historic inauguration to have someone who compares pro-choicers and gays to criminals speak (and thus marginalize those people) is truly exclusionary. Sometimes, you've gotta share the truck - not because you've had it for too long but because others haven't had a chance to have it at all. Sometimes, you're not going to be able to speak at an event. This is the first true celebration of Obama's presidency; it has huge symbolic meaning. I'm not barring social conservatives from being a part of ceremonies forever, but not having one who has been hateful and who has been political and who has done things like compared pro-choicers to Nazis would have been nice.

The problem is only partially that Rick Warren is a social conservative; I can't say I would be jumping off of chairs and throwing confetti if a social conservative had been selected who hadn't compared certain groups of the liberal persuasion with criminals, but I could have dealt with it. I wouldn't have been throwing confetti because I personally am tired of social conservative talking points and the spoiled little kid syndrome certain aspects of the right seem to get when they aren't #1 always and forever - like the whole "War on Christmas" crap. But I can't imagine it would have been impossible to find a social conservative who had been respectful of the left and hadn't -as Warren has - called some of the left Nazis and some of the left equivalent to pedophiles. It is that politically divisive and dismissive language and thought that I'm particularly incensed about being a part of Obama's inauguration.

" Obama isn’t surrounding himself with evangelicals to the exclusion of others voices."

No, he's not. But that doesn't change the fact that one evangelical is very much center stage, and it would have been nice to have a truly moderate pastor speak instead of hearing the same old, same old from the same groups of people. Having Rev. Joseph Lowery is definitely noteworthy and deserves recognition. But how about having two pastors who don't preach hate? How hard could it have been to find a pastor with an evangelical bent who didn't spew pedophiliac comparisons? Is that such a hard rubric that no one else of Warren's theological bent could qualify?

mikhailbakunin said...

I’m not arguing that Warren is entitled to a soapbox, only that Obama has the right to choose him for the inaugural invocation – and that I understand why he selected Warren. I wouldn’t be upset if Warren didn’t speak at the inauguration. I don’t care either way. You’re the one who’s angry about it.

I also think it’s important to point out that a quarter of Americans self-identify as evangelical Protestants. Of those, the overwhelming majority are Bible literalists. And if you’re a Bible literalist, you probably believe that homosexuality is the moral equivalent of pedophilia. Even if that theological position is inherently wrong or inherently bigoted (which I’m not convinced it is), it’s not – at least in Warren’s case – inherently hateful. There is a difference between judging people's actions to be sinful and demonizing the people.

petpluto said...

"I’m not arguing that Warren is entitled to a soapbox, only that Obama has the right to choose him for the inaugural invocation"

And I have the right to be upset about it. I have the right to wish that he'd picked someone else, even if it were another social conservative. I have a right to be disappointed in the choice, and I have a right to feel as if the choice of Rick Warren is more hurtful than helpful - and that there must have been a better choice for that "post- partisan reconciliation" thing than this particular man.

"I also think it’s important to point out that a quarter of Americans self-identify as evangelical Protestants."

And I think it is important to point out that an inauguration of any president is not for a specific group of people but for all Americans, and inviting someone who has debased a community that is already marginalized does exclude them from feeling as if this victory is for them as well.

MediaMaven said...

To be honest, Pet, at times I had trouble following this entry--and I actually agree with mikhail (even before I read his comments). I don't think any person picked to speak could have represented all Americans, and Obama picked a person who he respects, who is popular, accessible, and shares many of his beliefs. I also think this whole thing will blow over rather quickly.

petpluto said...

"I don't think any person picked to speak could have represented all Americans"

I agree, but I do think it would be incredibly possible to pick someone who has not made the comments Warren has made in the past. There is not going to be a preacher that represents all Americans or whose fundamental theological belief doesn't offend any Americans, or whose theological belief represents all Americans. As an atheist, I know that. No one will ever speak for me at an inaugural invocation, and I accept that as true.

But a pastor who doesn't compare pro-choicers to Nazis? I have to assume that isn't a tall order.

mikhailbakunin said...

You keep bringing up this "Nazi" comment, but that's not what Warren actually said. The real quote is:

". . . 40 million abortions since Roe v. Wade. Some people who, people who believe that life begins at conception, would say that’s a Holocaust for many people. At what point is a baby entitled to human rights?"

(The irony is that a number of pro-choice advocates keep comparing Rick Warren to the KKK and the Nazis.)

mikhailbakunin said...

I think it's also important to point out that millions of social conservatives - millions of people who fully agree with Warren - voted for Obama. You don't build a winning coalition without pro-lifers. One of Obama's most prominent supporters, Bob Casey, is STRONGLY opposed to abortion and stem cell research. It's not just "liberals" who helped Obama cruise to victory. It's Blue Dog Democrats, Dixicrats, and some Republicans, too.

petpluto said...

"The irony is that a number of pro-choice advocates keep comparing Rick Warren to the KKK and the Nazis."

I'm not them, nor are they speaking at the invocation.

"I think it's also important to point out that millions of social conservatives - millions of people who fully agree with Warren - voted for Obama."

And I don't deny that; here's the thing: I don't get what is controversial about saying that I'm disappointed that someone who has expressed his views in the way Warren has is invited to speak on a pretty important day. I think there is a good way to debate issues and a bad way to debate issues; that there is a respectful way to talk about moral quandaries and a disrespectful and ultimately alienating way to talk about moral quandaries. My problem doesn't stem from Warren's political or religious beliefs. My problem stems from how he chooses at times to frame those beliefs. And that I think that highlighting an evangelical (I'm not up on my evangelicals, so I don't have an example handy) who could and does talk about these issues in a respectful manner (and maybe doesn't think that dinos and humans roamed the earth together) would be better for that whole "post-partisan reconciliation" thing.

And a majority of this post wasn't a moral argument; it was me, talking about how I feel alienated from a party I generally support and what is exasperating about that party. Not "How dare Obama?!" or "Obama is immoral for picking Warren", but why I personally am not happy with the selection of Warren. It isn't even about how social conservatives are bigoted in any way; it was partially about how the social conservative thought has dominated the conversation and I had hoped for some change up. But really, the point is about Warren himself and why I personally didn't like the pick.

" The real quote is:"

That isn't the only time he discussed abortion within that framework, because I've read a different quote. I didn't save it, because my irritation over the Warren pick has been percolating, but I'd be happy to try and dig it up.

mikhailbakunin said...

There's only one other quote that I can find where he uses the term "Holocaust denier":

"If they [evangelicals] think that life begins at conception, then that means that there are 40 million Americans who are not here [because they were aborted] that could have voted. They would call that a holocaust and for them it would like if I'm Jewish and a Holocaust denier is running for office. 'I don't care how right he is on everything else, it's a deal breaker for me. I'm not going to vote for a Holocaust denier.'"

Again, if you look at the quote in context, he's just explaining the perspective that many evangelicals on this issue.

I should say that I think Warren's argument relies heavily on faulty logic. Live does begin at conception. There's no question about that. But it's a huge leap to say that an embryonic "life" is the moral equivalent of a fully-developed, conscious life. THAT'S the evangelical position.

I think he's right that if you believe embryonic life is equivalent to conscious life, then abortion is mass murder. I disagree with him, but I don't see how it's offensive to simply EXPLAIN a position that millions of Americans hold.

You're right, there's nothing wrong with you being angry. I just don't understand why. I don't think Warren expresses his views in a way that's particularly offensive - quite the opposite.