First of Many Disagreements to Come

19 12 2008

In picking Reverend Rick Warren deliver the invocation at the inaugural, President-elect Barack Obama earned the ire of the liberal left. It’s a reaction that surely team Obama must have foreseen, but one that may be difficult to quell, at least in the short term.

Joe Solmonese, President of Human Rights Campaign, a pro-gay rights group, called the  invitation “a genuine blow to LGBT Americans.”

At The Nation magazine Sarah Posner writes, “… the choice of Warren is not only a slap in the face to progressive ministers toiling on the front lines of advocacy and service but a bow to the continuing influence of the religious right in American politics.”

Greg Levine of Firedog Lake worries that the President-elect is being too accomodationist to a figure who deserves no olive branch, “… if Barack Obama wants to invite different voices to a discussion, fine, but that is very different from having a known homophobe give a speech at what is likely to be one of the highest profile events in recent US history. That’s not a dialogue—that’s a signal.”

Rev. Warren has been an outspoken and vigorous supporter of banning gay marriage, compared abortion to the Holocaust, thinks evolution is a fiction, and is an ardent foe of anti-stem cell research. To many on the left, he is a culture warrior in the mold of James Dobson or Pat Robertson despite the best-selling author’s support for such causes as global poverty reduction, containing the spread of AIDS and HIV, and combating climate change. All of which are areas where Obama will more than likely want to enlist Warren’s support.

But liberals, many of whom are willing to work with evangelicals on those same issues, do not want any progress of those nobel causes  to come at the expense of the right to marry, sexually reproductive rights, or scientific freedom. While inviting Rev. Warren to deliver the invocation will not automatically usher in the dark ages, it does suggest something that Obama is a little too conciliatory toward the very same people who will try to tear him apart in a few months. Some even worry that its an indication of the very conservative instincts that many fear Obama has thus far managed to conceal.

Other political observers see a stroke of opportunistic genius involved. MSNBC First Read said, “As for the pure politics of this, when you look at the exit polls and see the large numbers of white evangelicals in swing states like North Carolina, Florida and Missouri, as well as emerging battlegrounds like Georgia and Texas, you’ll understand what Obama’s up to. ” As plausible as that may sound to some, I think that’s a tad too cynical.

For his part, Obama said on Thursday at his press conference:

Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue, I think, is a part of what my campaign’s been all about, that we’re never going to agree on every single issue. What we have to do is create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans. So Rick Warren has been invited to speak, Dr. Joseph Lowery — who has deeply contrasting views to Rick Warren about a whole host of issues — is also speaking.

During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that’s how it should be, because that’s what America’s about. That’s part of the magic of this country, is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated. And so, you know, that’s the spirit in which, you know, we have put together what I think will be a terrific inauguration. And that’s, hopefully, going to be a spirit that carries over into my administration.

Disagreeing without being disagreeable might not cut it with after the fallout over Prop 8, a measure banning same-sex marriagea, in California. Too many feelings are still raw about that lost, and not enough has been done to mend divisions between communities. Plus, given how there are thousands of activists about to descend on DC on January 20th, we could see spontaneous protests take place just as we saw in around the country in the aftermath of the passage of Prop 8. Thus, creating an undesirable subplot to what would otherwise be a much more grander narrative about the dawn of an era.

Most people who voted for Obama assumed that they would not agree with him on every single issue, but they do hope to be on the same wavelength on certain big issues that have a certain visceral dimension to them. And when that is not the case, the President-elect should expect a barrage of intense and persistent criticism, which I am sure he will be able to handle. He’s a big boy.

So simply attributing criticism as mere difference of opinion, especially when its describe as noisy and such, probably will strike many his supporters as dismissive. As David Corn noted on CQ, “…Warren’s opposition to gay rights is more than a mere policy dispute. It is an act of bigotry. Sure, Warren does not believe he is being discriminatory. But that’s what it is.”

By the same token, liberals have to understand that the culture wars don’t mean as much to Obama as they do to his Democratic predecessors. He thinks those issues frames are designed to keep Democrats in the losing column, electorally speaking. So, he will not hesitate to aggressively court evangelicals on issues where they and liberals share common ground.  Doing so, will probably involve at least some symbolic gestures before effectively prying lose the white knuckled grip Republican’s have had on that segment of the voting population as he fulfills his quest to redraw the political map and maintain widespread support for his agenda.

In the final analysis, however, I am not sure if having Rev. Warren at the inauguration is worth the political headache of angering the liberal base. I realize that the favorability ratings are high and that Obama feels as if he could take at hit now, but I would be reluctant to spend hard won political capital among supporters on something that would pose the most activist and partisan segment of my base against me on the last day of the honeymoon.




2 responses

21 12 2008
23 12 2008

Liberals will not get Christians and Jews to throw over the teachings of the Torah or the Bible.

On the other hand, people of faith will not browbeat or strong arm those seeking same sex marriage into their worldview.

When two guys from opposite viewpoints decide to bow their heads before the creator of the universe – look out!
The long knives come out.

May I invite you to consider my personal “outing?”

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