Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reverend Warren And The Invocation

Controversy has been swirling since the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies announced on December 17 it has selected to give the invocation at the presidential inauguration on January 20 the Reverend Rick Warren, a Southern Baptist minister responsible for the exceedingly popular Purpose Driven Life series.

It was a decision Obama defended (and initiated), stating

A couple of years ago, I was invited to Rick Warren's church to speak, despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion. Nevertheless, I had an opportunity to speak. And that dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign's been all about -- that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans.

You might remember Rev. Warren for his opposition to abortion rights or more likely his fervent support of Proposition 8 in California, which restricted the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman after the state Supreme Court had recognized a right to gay marriage.

Principled advocates of both the left and the right have attacked the choice. CBN Senior National Correspondent David Brody (co-host of a weekly program on CNN), who likes the selection, wrote nevertheless, "the Brody File has been flooded with emails and most of them absolutely rip Pastor Warren for doing this." But most of the mainstream media has fixated on opposition to the selection from the right, such as this post from firedoglake's Jane Hamsher. And Glenn Greenwald of cogently argues that Obama's approach is

exactly the same thing Democrats have been doing for the last two decades: namely, accommodating and compromising with the Right in the name of bipartisan harmony and a desire to avoid partisan and cultural conflicts? This harmonious approach may be many things, but the one thing it seems not to be is "new."

Greenwald equates the strategy with President Clinton's "triangulation" scheme and notes

What did all of those post-partisan, cultural outreach efforts generate? Hatred so undiluted that it led to endless investigations, accusations whose ugliness was boundless, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and ultimate impeachment over a sex scandal. Bill Clinton was anything but a cultural or partisan warrior. He was the opposite. And that was what he had to show for it.

And it wasn't only with Clinton. Greenwald says of Democrats "from 9/11 onward, they were probably the single most cooperative, compliant, and accomodating 'opposition party' ever to exist" and

Did any of that dilute the Right's anger and resentments towards Democrats? Democrats spent 2002 giving George Bush everything he wanted -- including authorization to attack Iraq -- and the Right then promptly attacked them as Saddam-allied, Osama-loving subversives. In 2004, Democrats got frightened away from nominating an actual combative liberal, because they feared he'd be too divisive and culturally alienating, and replaced him with a mild-mannered, inoffensive war hero, who then had derisive purple band-aids waved at him by the GOP convention throngs, who spent months mocking him as a weak, effete, elitist loser.

And there was this: Blue-Dog Democrat Charles Walter Stenholm from Texas' 17th Congressional District: advocate of gun rights, opponent of abortion rights, pro-corporate opponent of environmental protection. When the staunchly Republican state legislature in Texas, guided by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay ("The Exterminator"), gerrymandered the state to eliminate the remaining House Democrats, Charlie Stenholm was left in a more conservative, Republican district. And when Stenholm stood for reelection in 2004, did President George W. Bush, facing increasing opposition from the public and Congressional Democrats for his war in Iraq, recognize his need for congressional supporters of the war like Stenholm? As syndicated columnist David Broder wrote at the time, Bush "went out of his way to plug (Repub nomineee Randy) Neugebauer when he campaigned nearby and Vice President Cheney came in twice to help sink Stenholm" (who lost his seat).

Republicans recognize that pandering to the opposition is a far less effective strategy than opposing on principle. And Rick Warren has proven to be an opponent of Obama on more than gay rights and abortion rights, as demonstrated by the Civil Forum held in August with Obama and John McCain at Reverend Warren's Saddleback Church, where

Instead of sticking to questions on areas where Warren truly has broken from some religious conservatives, like climate change, the importance of alleviating poverty and preventing HIV transmission, Warren drew Obama and John McCain into a discussion of old-school social conservative hot-button issues: the definition of marriage and whether life begins at conception. Days later, he turned around and blasted Obama's answers on abortion rights, comparing being pro-choice to denying the Holocaust.

At the beginning of the forum (in which Obama was questioned first and McCain performed brilliantly), Warren famously assured the audience "We flipped a coin, and we have safely placed Senator McCain in a cone of silence." Yet, when informed by CNN's Rick Sanchez that McCain was not in this cone but in a Secret Service motorcade during a portion (approximately the first half hour) of the Obama interview, Warren flippantly replied "Well, that's true. He was in a cone of a secret service motorcade."

There is a distinction between working with political adversaries to achieve desired ends and rewarding them when they've only tried to undermine your efforts. While the former is often wise strategy, the latter is likely to breed contempt for an opponent viewed as vacillating.

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