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Say It Isn't So, O!

December 17, 2008

They always disappoint you, these politicians. I tend to be a bit of a Pollyanna or at least a cockeyed optimist even after all these years of political involvement. And though Obama's appointments have sometimes been thrilling, sometimes worrying; I figured we needed to cut the guy some slack; he's got a mighty hard job in front of him after all, and it is critically important that he be successful. But today, he went too far when he gave Rev. Rick Warren the enormous honor of delivering the invocation at his inauguration. I mean, please. Sarah Posner at The Nation writes:
There was no doubt that Obama, like every president before him, would pick a Christian minister to perform this sacred duty. But Obama had thousands of clergy to choose from, and the choice of Warren is not only a slap in the face to progressive ministers toiling on the front lines of advocacy and service, but a bow to the continuing influence of the religious right in American politics. Warren vocally opposes gay marriage, does not believe in evolution, has compared abortion to the Holocaust and backed the assassination of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Excuse me, but what about the basic human rights of women and gays? Is Obama buying into the absurd notion that such disrespect for our fundamental humanity is just a matter of opinion rather than a violation of simple justice? And of all the members of the clergy that Obama could have chosen--and there are thousands of mainstream men and women of the cloth who would have delivered the message, for a president so skilled in the use of symbols, that the so-called religious right doesn't have a lock on faith or righteousness--why in the world would he pick the very embodiment of intolerance? There is in fact, little separating the hateful words of Rick Warren from the hateful words spewed by Jeremiah Wight except Warren's less strident tone of voice and smarmy smile. As Amie Newman observes in RHRealityCheck:
And, yet, it's Pastor Rick Warren who will join President Elect Obama on stage when he is inaugurated. Warren who advocates strongly for the abstinece-only based ideological restrictions in our Global AIDS Plan - PEPFAR. It's Warren who has advocated to retain these restrictions which clash wholeheartedly with Obama's plan to strip them away... It is hard to imagine Obama and Warren's agendas for any sexual or reproductive health issues aligning at this point, making it all the more puzzling why Obama chose Warren for this role. In an expose on Religion Dispatches, Tom Davis writes of Warren's die-hard positions on social issues all while taking more "moderate" stances on issues of global warming, poverty, war and AIDS (though, as I note above, supporting the imposition of religious restrictions on global AIDS policy is not moderate).
My fantasy--this is the Pollyanna in me talking now--is that Warren is so power hungry that he will be more than a little co-opted, possibly even corrupted (from the perspective of his followers), by the attentions Barack Obama is lavishing on him. But The Nation's Posner takes a dimmer, and probably more realistic, view about who will be corrupted:
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.
So what are we going to do about it? Here are couple of ways to register your dismay and urge Obama to uninvite Warren and invite, say, Tom Davis who has long toiled in the vineyards of social justice for all. Here's a Facebook group you can join. Or, in a more direct approach, you can contact the Obama transition team here. Blog it, tell your friends about it. Together we can raise clamor enough that Obama will have to reconsider this very bad decision, and say it isn't so after all.

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