Monday, December 22, 2008

Warren, yet again

Today, the Seattle Times published a letter of mine about Obama's choice of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. I repeated many of the argumentss that I have made here, but I think some of the commenters missed the points I was trying to make, or I wasn't very clear about making them in the first place. So, to sum up the problem.

First, this isn't just a gay issue. There are plenty of other reasons to object to Warren, even for people who agree with Warren on that issue or who don't care about it. Warren has spoken in favor of assassinating foreign leaders (imagine the outcry if an Iranian mullah who called for Obama's assassination were honored in this way). He denies evolution. He has expressed admiration for the terrorist supporting government of Syria. He has flatly told Jews to their face that they will go to hell if they don't convert. He calls moderate Christian leaders "Marxists." When called on these things, he lies and tries to destroy the records of his bigotry (by getting YouTube to remove incriminating clips or by editing his church's website). New evidence of his extremism comes to light every day.

Second, someone this confrontational and offensive to so many groups is not a consensus building choice. There are many moderate evangelical leaders that Obama could have reached out to. Instead he chose a far right extremist. If Obama was trying to build unity and show that he is the president of all the people, how does kicking his most loyal supporters to the curb accomplish that goal? How does embracing a lying bigot accomplish that goal?

Warren was a bad choice and a major tactical mistake by Obama. The far right will not be brought into the fold by a symbol or a token and Obama's supporters have not been disappointed and injected with cynicism.

That said, I don't expect Obama to revoke his invitation. The Washington pundit corps loves to see Democrats slap down liberals and, in fact, frequently demands that they do so. Obama will gain nothing from the left by changing his mind. The damage is done; the cynicism is there. He has a lot to lose across the rest of the spectrum by pulling his invitation. The pundit corps, the Republicans, and the right would all paint such an action as caving in to a small special interest. As I have said before, the religious right has done such an effective job of portraying themselves as the spokesmen for all American Christianity that any repudiation of their extremism will be seen as an insult to all Christians. It's not, but the same alliance of pundits, Republicans, and religious extremists will make that false claim and many moderates will buy it.

The only way the left is going to get anything out of this affair will be by blackmailing* team Obama. Those with a bigger bully pulpit than mine should pressure Obama to compensate us by making at least one unambiguously liberal appointment to the few remaining high profile jobs. Although the Warren insult is not exclusively a gay issue (and I think we're making a big mistake by letting it be treated that way), the gay community is the most clearly hurt by this and the appointment should be of someone favorable to that cause. We need to make lemonade out of this lemon. I wonder if we could find a gay, Jewish evolutionist to head the civil rights department at Justice.

* Blackmail is such an ugly word, Sykes. I prefer to call it extortion.

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