Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rick Warren and Obama

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, is giving the invocation at Obama's Inaugural. Many liberals are upset about this. Gays in particular aren't happy about it; Andrew Sullivan has been struggling with it all day.

I can obviously appreciate why many of my compadres are not pleased with this choice. I don't know much about Rick Warren, but I clearly disagree with him on a fair number of issues, particularly gay marriage.

The fact that this is coming in the wake of the passage of Prop. 8 has colored much of the reaction. If Prop. 8 had failed, the tone of the debate would be very different; triumphant liberals would be a lot less angry. There is still a great deal of unfocused anger lingering in the political air around the issue of gay marriage. Unfocused anger is the worst kind, because it means that whoever is carrying it around inside themselves is looking for an excuse to be angry at someone, for almost any reason. Obama gave people a reason to focus their anger both on Rick Warren, and on him. I'm not sure he was expecting quite this reaction, but I doubt he was surprised.

My reaction is simple: this is exactly what I was expecting from Barack Obama, and I'm fine with it. If you're outraged at Obama about this choice, get ready to be pissed off once a week or so for the next four to eight years.

Barack is the President-elect of the United States of America. Emphasis on United. He is not the President-elect of the Liberal States of America or the Democratic States of America. If anyone missed Obama's emphasis on reaching out to people he disagreed with, then they weren't listening. This has been his message since that historic keynote address in 2004. Lee Stranahan put it well today in the Huffpost:

There's something bigger at play here and you can't say Obama didn't warn you. He talked about reaching out, about expanding our politics and that crazy bastard actually meant it. Nobody on the left or right quite knows what to make of it. We want to cram Obama into our old, divisive, two toned ideological and political frame and if he doesn't fit, we'll attack him too. Attacking is what we're used to doing.

But in the long run this new politics benefits us all. Ironically, it benefits the minorities and marginalized and ill-treated the most. I know this may be hard for many to see right now but the truth is that this sort of symbol is what America needs. Not seeing just Warren on stage or just Lowery but seeing both of them of there at once.

Obama said it in the abstract time and again during the campaign. Now he's showing us. Seeing the things that Pastor Rick Warren and Reverend Joseph Lowery have in common is more important than seeing the things that separate them. America needs to see that. It's a step down the road where a majority of us see the things that straight Americans in love want are the same things that gay Americans in love want, too.

I think part of the problem that many liberals have is that they are used to Bush, who used occasions like this for the exact opposite reasons that Obama is using them. If Bush invited someone to give the invocation at his inaugural, you knew darn well that he was sending a message that he agreed with that person's politics, and he was using the occasion to send the message that he considered that person's politics correct and superior to anyone who disagreed with him.

Obama has listened to Rick Warren. He knows him personally. He believes that he is a good man, with whom he has many disagreements. He is not sending a message that this is a man who the rest of us must agree with. He is sending a message that the rest of us should respect, listen to, and engage him in dialogue, not despite the fact that we disagree with him, but precisely because we disagree with him.

Joseph Lowery, the "dean of the civil rights movement," is also going to be at the Inaugural, giving the benediction. I'm not sure what the difference is between the benediction and invocation, but they both sound very important.

I found out that Lowery was going to be giving the benediction when I read the second-to-last paragraph of this NY Times article. I don't know much more about Lowery than I do about Warren, except that the former founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King, Jr.

But the fact there has been far more emphasis on Rick Warren than on Joseph Lowery says something unfortunate about the debate. The fact that someone of Joseph Lowery's stature is part of this celebration is something that liberals should be very happy about. Concentrating on Warren slights Lowery, at a moment that is the culmination of what Dr. Rev. Joseph Lowery has been fighting for his entire life.

By far the stupidest comment of the day on this controversy came from the normally very astute Kos:

If we shut up, [Obama]'ll take the path of least resistance. And that path of least resistance is kowtowing to the conservative media, the clueless punditocracy, and bigots like Warren.
I understand what Kos means: it's up to liberals to keep the pressure on Obama to fight for equality for gays and lesbians (and all other sexual minorities).

But I can't believe that Kos actually used the phrase "path of least resistance" and "Barack Obama" in the same sentence. There are many things that can be said about Barack Obama. But taking the past of least resistance is really not his style. Really, really not his style. I do believe that this is a man who enjoys a good challenge. Like, say, running for President.

Obama has pissed off lots of liberals with this move. I'm glad that he did. This will make things more interesting. Overcoming this anger will be a challenge for Obama. Which is exactly what he wants, and which is exactly what I want him to have.

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