Friday, December 19, 2008

A Rejoinder to Oh-bama! Pt. 1

Have to respectfully disagree with my colleague and dear friend Nani on the issue of Obama selecting Controversial Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration.

But first, let me point out that I do get a kick at how Rick Warren is frequently described as "Controversial Pastor Rick Warren," as though it was his official title and job description. I'll abbreviate with "CPRW."

While many on the left see the choice of CPRW as some sort of betrayal, I certainly don't. To me, it is basically what we should expect. Has the left forgotten the passage in Obama's 2004 DNC speech, replayed in numerous campaign ads this cycle, where Obama made his case (to paraphrase here) that "we are not a red America and a blue America; we are the United States of America"? Was the left asleep during the campaign when Obama repeatedly stated (and took quite a bit of flack for it) that when it comes to foreign policy, we need to have open dialogues with nations with whom we don't agree?

I know this is an over generalization, but I think the left may be equating a massive popular vote and electoral college victory as a mandate to push a progressive agenda. Maybe, but I think that's a little hard to square with a leader with a "post-partisan" vision, and a stated intent to reach out across the aisle to those on the right. Keep in mind, a victory like that only comes with the support of independent voters and some on the right. Plus, we've seen the version of "reaching across the aisle" that consists of saying, "it's my way or the highway, motherfuckers." Yes, that would be the Dubya Bush approach to bipartisan governance. With certain exceptions, I don't think that approach accomplished much, other than bitterly dividing the country.

I look at Obama's invitation to CPRW as a shrewd, consensus-building political move. But I don't mean to come across as totally cynical, because from all accounts, Obama genuinely likes the guy.

And to put the gay marriage issue aside for a moment, CPRW, who is apparently very influential in evangelical circles, has some common ground with Obama and with the left, for example on climate change. Obama is never going to win over the evangelical population on issues like gay marriage and abortion. But selling other issues that are dear to the left is going to be a hell of a lot easier with broad popular support than it would be if Obama leads off his presidency by stoking the fires on the culture war issue of gay marriage. If he does that, he risks a certain percentage of Americans being dead set against anything he wants to do.

Now, will this work, who knows? But I don't think it's a bad idea. And at the end of the day, I think anyone left slack-jawed at this should have been paying more attention to who and what Obama is during the election. This is par for the course.

Now, on the issue of gay marriage, yes, I do think it is important. I think the campaign against gay marriage is deplorable. I think CPRW's opposition to it is misguided, as is all opposition to it. I know that it is deeply painful for gay Americans whose rights are being denied. And I further think that it tarnishes the liberties that we straight Americans enjoy.

But I don't live in fantasy land either. I do not believe that hunkering down in the trenches or screaming louder is going to solve the issue. While I am no expert on psychology, I believe the more that gays are humanized in this debate and the more that the personal impact on them caused by opposition to gay marriage is shown, the more persuasive the case for gay marriage becomes. An outreach, and the invitation to a civil discourse on the topic lays the foundation for this transformation in the way gays are perceived to take place. Certainly, it's going to go further than continuing to engage in endless arguments based on logic and a historical analysis of the institution of marriage, because at the end of the day, the disagreement is, at it's core, a very visceral one.

Finally, just as the idea that talking with Iran, for example, is an endorsement of its positions or values is a fallacy, so too is the idea that Obama is selling out the gays by inviting CPRW to the inauguration. The sell out will come, if at all, if Obama takes some substantive step against the gay rights movement. In contrast to that, this CPRW thing is just fluff.

I suggest everyone just calm down about this. As Harold Ford said today on Morning Joe, after the inauguration, the only thing we'll remember is Obama's inaugural address, not the fact that CPRW gave the invocation.

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