One of the reasons I don't need any Old Sneeps to tell me that Barack Obama is not the Greatest of the Great New Wonderfuls---besides the fact that I'm a grown-up and I read the newspapers and I gave up waiting for King Arthur's return a long time ago---is that Avedon Carol's and Wev McEwan's blogs have been at the top of my daily blog reading for four years and counting and AC and Wev have both been very good about pointing it out to their readers whenever Obama wanders off the road to Progressive Utopia. Which he's done again with his decision to let the Reverend Rick "God Loves Assassins and Hates Gays" Warren deliver the invocation at the Inauguration.
You'd think a guy who wanted to be a president for all Americans, someone who wanted to be inclusive and eschew partisanship, would at least have the decency to choose someone who wasn't already a famous, political, controversial, pseudo-moderate right-wing creep to give the invocation at the inauguration, wouldn't you? Someone who wasn't a pants-on-fire bigot?...
I'm sure Obama could have found a preacher who hangs out with the Jesus of love, hope, and charity if he'd really wanted to. But instead he picked a public clown. This crap does not bring the country together.
I understand that Warren isn't going to be driving policy, that he's only leading a prayer at the inauguration (and why there is a prayer at the presidential inauguration is a whole other post), but I also know that there are, literally, thousands of other religious leaders from multiple religions and Christian denominations, who aren't anti-choice, anti-gay, and anti-science, whose presence at the inauguration wouldn't be a sharp stick in the eye to progressive women and GBTQ men, and all their allies, so it would have been really fucking nice if any one of them could have been selected for this prominent opportunity instead of Rick bloody Warren.
(Quick note to Avedon: I wish you had a cute icon like Wev's so I could have used it here. I wish I had one of my own too.)
I think Obama is going to be a good President, and not just in comparison to any Republican. But as Avedon and others have said, pace FDR, he'll be only as good as we make him be. I'll add something I said all through the primaries, something that would have been as true of Hillary as it will be of him. He'll be only as Progressive as Congress allows him to be or forces him to be, and as it looks now, if things don't change in Harry Reid's Senate, that won't be anywhere near as Progressive not just as we want him to be but as the country needs him to be.
At the moment, Barack Obama is still not actually the President, so I'm withholding judgment. Harry Reid is majority leader of the Senate and it doesn't look to me as though even when he has a real majority come January he'll have any more of a clue as to how to keep the Plantation Caucus from running things, and ruining things, than he does now.
As I said, I'm withholding judgment. I like a lot of what Obama's been announcing he plans to do for the economy and some of his Cabinet choices and picks for advisors and agency heads have been very promising. Others? Not so much. For every two steps he takes in the right direction he takes one step in the Right direction.
But one of the ways Obama reminds me of Franklin Roosevelt is that he appears to be as coolly calculating a politician as FDR was. I've never believed that all that talk of bi-partisanship and post-partisanship was anything other than a ploy to convince disenchanted Republicans and Independents that it's safe to vote Democratic. The Right's success over the last generation was partly due to their convincing voters that Democrats were the OTHERS. Get them around that idea or over it or through it and they'll find they have a more congenial home in the Democratic Party. If that's the plan, then I suspect that Obama's using Rick Warren the same way John McCain tried to use Joe the Plumber, except, of course, more subtly and more cleverly.
I'm afraid, though, he's not being too clever by half.
Wev reports that Obama and Warren are actually friends. If that's true, it's a good reason for the Obamas to have him on their Christmas card list and even inviting him to sit with the family at the Inauguration. But having Warren at the Inauguration is one thing. Asking all of us to pray along with him is quite another.
Like asking us to pray against our gay friends and family members.
Not to mention, as The Nation's Sarah Posner puts it (via Tina at the Agonist) "a slap in the face to progressive ministers toiling on the front lines of advocacy and service".
More from Tina here.
Updated to give Scott Lemieux the final word because he's right:
It's unlikely in the extreme that Rick Warren's "purely symbolic" selection is going to attract any non-negligible number of reactionary evangelical voters, while slapping major Democratic constituencies in the face surely carries its own risks. And worse, it elevates Warren's stature further, giving him "bipartsian" media credibility when he inevitably attacks any decent part of Obama's agenda. It's a dismaying choice, wrong on the merits and wrong on the politics.
Updated again so Scott no longer has the last word but he's a big boy and won't mind: As you've probably heard by now, Warren was definitely Obama's own choice and he's not about to back away from it. Wev has the video and a transcript.
According to Steve Benen, this will be the first Presidential inauguration that features an invocation. I'm surprised. I could swear that every one I've watched opened with a preacher and a prayer. Is an invocation something different? Something more? Also, according to Steve, this will be the first with a benediction, which must be different from a closing prayer because I'm sure that I've seen those at inaugurations in the past too. Now, while Warren will be delivering the invocation, the benediction will be given by Civil Rights legend Dr Joseph Lowery. This apparent counter-balancing act may be Obama's attempt to split the difference or look as though he is. It may be, as some of Steve's readers argue, that having Lowery wrap things up trumps having Warren doing the cold opening. But there is this: Every Right Wing Evangelical who tunes in to hear Warren is likely also going to stick around to hear, not just Lowery, but Barack Obama, who, I'm just guessing here, probably isn't going to sound all that bi-partisan or post-partisan to your average conservative. Will Lowery trump Warren? Better question. Will Obama trump Warren? The answer to this explains why various Right Wing types are as furious about Warren's invocation as we are. They're afraid it is a ploy and Obama is using Warren.
Now, the "ploy" works like this, if it works. Scott is probably right, the number of Right Wing evangelicals who can be peeled away from the Republican Party is almost certainly negligible. But the number of socially conservative, religious Republican voters who have been voting against their own economic interests and who might be brought to see that is not. The actual number of these potential converts to the Democratic Party doesn't have to be very high to tip some Congressional races. Not all Christians are Evangelicals, just as not all Evangelicals are conservatives. If these voters can be persuaded that Barack Obama is not a scary liberal-angry black dude-Muslim by the presence of Rick Warren and they start making visits to the Democrats' neighborhood, they very well might decide they like the look of things, such as guaranteed health insurance, economic policies that keep their jobs in this country, higher wages, and more stable and socially conservative communities (Remember, it's our policies that actually reduce the number of abortions and out of wedlock pregnancies and keep kids in school etc etc etc), to the point of not minding having gay couples and other hippies as their neighbors and so they stick around and become somewhat reluctant Democrats, meanwhile, their kids grow up quite contentedly as enthusiastic Democrats.
You will notice I said Democrats, not Liberals, and not Progressives.
This is how it should work. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work and Obama has to look elsewhere for more votes. Or...something like what Digby's afraid will happen happens.
Some heartening news: Warren isn't the only one of Obama's friends who'll be a featured speaker at the Inauguration. Poet Elizabeth Alexander will be reading a poem she's writing for the occasion. Obama and Alexander go way back.
Here's the link to Alexander's webpage.
Hat tip to Sherry Chandler, poet and blogger.
And there's more from the Academy of American Poets.