Liberals fuming about Warren

Obama's decision to put Warren on inaugural stage has infuriated some of his supporters.


Thomas Schaller
December 18, 2008 9:10PM (UTC)

Liberal anger and disappointment over the decision by Barack Obama to ask Rick Warren to give an invocation at the inauguration ceremony next month continues to mount. The substance of the complaints includes the expected transgressions: Warren's opposition to gay rights (including, most recently, asking his followers to back California's Prop 8); his equating of abortion to the Holocaust; his rejection of evolution.

But the analyses and critiques are taking some interesting turns:

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  • Sarah Posner, who has written extensively about evangelical politics for the American Prospect, has a great essay in the Nation, which she concludes as follows: "Warren represents the absolute worst of the Democrats' religious outreach, a right-winger masquerading as a do-gooder anointed as the arbiter of what it means to be faithful. Obama's religious outreach was intended, supposedly, to make religious voters more comfortable with him and feel included in the Democratic Party. But that outreach now has come at the expense of other people's comfort and inclusion, at an event meant to mark a turning point away from divisive politics."
  • Ezra Klein of the Prospect discusses what the choice means for "inclusiveness," ostensibly the principle gain of inviting Warren: "The going explanation for Warren's presence on the inauguration podium is that 'this aims to be the most open and inclusive inauguration in history,' as Linda Douglas, a spokeswoman for the inauguration committee, told Politico. It's a peculiar definition of 'open and inclusive.' Warren, after all, is the only preacher giving the invocation. He will not share the stage with a rabbi, an imam, a monk, and an episcopalian. And Warren is not being chosen because he himself is open and inclusive . . . The tolerance Obama is asking for, in other words, is not from Warren. It's from the LGBT community, and women. He is asking them to be tolerant of Warren's intolerance. It's a cruel play, framed to marginalize the legitimate anger of those who Warren harms and discriminates against."
  • And Mark Kleiman has some fun imagining if a similar move had been made in Iran: "Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has chosen a fundamentalist imam to give the opening prayer at the next meeting of the majlis. The Hojatolislam Rukh al-Warun is considered 'moderate' by Iranian standards, but that merely illustrates how completely insane Iranian Islam has become. For example, asked whether sharia supported 'taking out' George W. Bush, al-Warun replied, 'The Prophet, Peace be upon him, has said, 'Allah puts government on Earth to punish evil-doers.' And it is written in the Holy Qu'ran that evil cannot be bargained with; it must be brought to an end. That is the legitimate goal of government.' "

So why is Obama risking this anger and disappointment? MSNBC's First Read has a pretty concise articulation of the "conventional wisdom" as to the politics of the selection of Warren:

[Obama senior adviser David] Axelrod and [Communications chief-to-be Robert] Gibbs have to be smiling this morning with the news that gay-rights groups are angry that Obama has announced that conservative evangelical Rick Warren will give the invocation at Obama’s inauguration. Why are they smiling? Because it never hurts -- at least when it comes to governing or running for re-election -- when you sometimes disappoint/anger your party’s interest groups (in this case, People for the American Way and the Human Rights Campaign). Just asking, but is anyone but People for the American Way and the Human Rights Campaign surprised that Rick Warren is going to give a prayer at the inauguration? Where was this outrage when Obama appeared at Warren’s Saddleback forum back in August? The difference may be that the forum came before Proposition 8 passed in California. 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.

So, in short, this is a Sister Souljah moment -- is that it?

Before there is more Souljah-ing forward, a quick, closing thought: Remember how Bill Clinton was criticized as being weak because he cared more about what his opponents and detractors thought and said about him than he did his friends? If a similar meme begins to develop for Obama, watch for this sort of behavioral pattern to come to a halt.


Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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