It could be that Barack Obama is simply smarter than the rest of us. The first black president of the Harvard Law Review has made a career of turning conventional wisdom on its head.
When people said that America was not ready for an African American president, he ran anyway -- and won. He was counseled by countless talking heads to "go negative" against Hillary Clinton in the primaries and then John McCain -- but he largely stuck to his strategy of staying positive -- and won. In the middle of the campaign, Obama hit an iceberg named Rev. Jeremiah Wright, injecting race into a campaign that had desperately tried to shy away from this explosive issue. Obama discarded advice to spin the crisis and instead delivered a lecture on race relations that has gone down as one of the greatest speeches in the history of American politics -- not to mention it saved his campaign. So, at this point in his rocket-propelled career, it is unwise to bet against the political instincts of Barack Obama.
Still, choosing pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration seemed like a gaffe that has served, if nothing else, as a distraction to Obama's central message of unifying America. This olive branch to evangelical Christians, who largely supported John McCain, felt more like poison ivy to gay and lesbian voters, who overwhelmingly cast ballots for Obama.
After all, Warren has a program to "help" homosexuals "pray away the gay" and played a prominent role in passing Proposition 8, which prohibits same-sex couples from marrying in California. He has even compared same-sex couples marrying to incest and child abuse.
Even if scientists find that homosexuality is genetic, Warren would still counsel gay people to fight their "sin," reducing our love to nothing more than perverted impulses. While Warren presumably gets his basic needs met by his wife, he expects gay people to abandon fulfilling relationships for dour lives of loneliness, severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
Obama can talk about unity all he wants, but what he is really doing is upholding the "Great Gay Exception." Obama would never have an anti-Semite on stage in the name of common ground. If so, why did he distance himself from fellow Chicagoan Louis Farrakhan during his campaign? Obama would also never dream of giving a platform to an open racist. But, Obama seems to think we should not object to him elevating Warren, who we find deeply offensive.
My hope is that Obama's plan is to offer heavy doses of symbolism and style to power hungry preachers, like Warren -- while delivering substantive policy achievements to the gay and lesbian community. When gay and lesbian leaders reacted with understandable indignation, Obama's rebuttal was, people need to "learn to agree to disagree without being disagreeable."
This phrase, that many Evangelicals are nodding their heads to in agreement, is a rhetorical trap. If they agree to this principle over the Warren flap, they have essentially forfeited their moral high ground if they get "disagreeable" when Congress passes a law that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The only flaw in this logic is that social conservatives rarely play by the same rules because they think they represent God. It is possible that Obama may have outsmarted himself by appealing to his sanctimonious enemies, who will never return the favor, while forfeiting support among his closest friends.
But, then again, maybe he really can buy goodwill by stroking the egos of narcissistic holy men. Rick Warren begins his best selling book The Purpose Driven Life with the refrain, "this is not about you." Of course not! It's always been about Rick Warren -- whose camera-ready compassion is legendary.
If any good can come from this controversy, it is that many Americans now realize that Warren is masquerading as a moderate and posing as a pragmatist. Many Americans -- who previously respected Warren -- now view him as a poll-tested Pat Robertson who hides hate behind a Hawaiian shirt. He seemed arrogant and out of touch on NBC's Dateline when he told Ann Curry that he wasn't homophobic because he provided protesters outside his church with doughnuts. Gee, thanks, maybe next time he takes away our rights we'll get ice cream from His holiness.
The alternative storyline is really unthinkable.
In this version, Obama cynically used gay and lesbian people for money, votes and volunteers. Then before he is sworn in, he swears off equality. This plot was certainly advanced when not a single openly gay person was appointed to a high-level cabinet position.
Within a year, we will learn whether Obama's decision to choose Warren was cagey, careless or cruel. If it is the former, we will soon view this cultural flashpoint as a flash in the pan. If it is the latter, it will cause an explosion of gay activism, giving many people who were previously apolitical, purpose driven lives -- protesting Barack Obama.
I especially liked Ann Curry's facial expressions, it was obvious she was thinking "OMFG".
I don't buy this "reaching across the aisle" crap, but you have pointed out the real good that is coming of this - though I doubt Obama did it intentionally. But now Rick Warren's homophobia is being exposed all over the place. And with it, the hypocritical "love the sinner, hate the sin" mentality of so many Americans is called into question.
To add fuel to the fire, Warren has also said that "homosexuality is proof that evolution does not exist." How about that? And we're not supposed to be outraged?
posted by Robert, NYC., at
12/23/2008 8:34 AM
And now the pope declares that gays are a threat to humanity.
Anyone who would even consider putting such a vile, retarded creature in a place of honor not only does not deserve respect -- he deserves ridicule.
This is an irreparable move by obama. Nothing he does will make up for this, even though I'd bet that he'll do hardly anything at all policy-wise for LGBT people.
posted by CJ, at
12/23/2008 2:49 PM
Homophobia is very quickly becoming less and less mainstream by the day; hence the quotations from the bigots will become more and more shrill, as they will tend to increasingly emanate from extremists and lunatics. The Pope is a total embarrassment. If I were a Catholic, I'd be hanging my head in shame.
posted by Chris L., at
12/23/2008 3:34 PM
Oh yes, I read that, Robert. I put him in the same camp as Warren. Both are homophobes to the core and are willing to do us whatever harm that they can.
CJ. much as I would like to think otherwise, I, too, believe that Obama will do little, if anything to help us. The bottom line is: we wuz screwed, glued, and tattooed.
posted by Merlyn, at
12/24/2008 10:50 AM