Sunday, January 18, 2009


When it was announced that Rick Warren was going to be speaking at Obama's invocation, I was puzzled. I didn't really know who Rick Warren was, but the more I found out, the less I liked and more puzzled I became. When I saw how much flak Warren was taking in the media, though, I got an idea. I didn't really put much stock in the idea, it was kind of a longshot, but it was still there.

Later on, when the most-cited quote of Warren's website was struck from public view, Warren took more heat. My idea got a little stronger.

A week ago, when it was announced that Gene Robinson, an openly gay Episcopalian Bishop, was also going to be speaking during the inaugural events, the idea got a bit stronger. Some scoffed at Team Obama's announcement that Robinson's presence had been planned for a long time (Robinson has been an Obama supporter for a while now), but I am not so skeptical.  Before I get into this, please don't mistake my meaning:  I too am disappointed by the Warren pick, and I'm not discarding out-of-hand that Obama & co. may have been merely trying to appease the Reds; I just think that an invocation speech is a fairly minor thing to give and that another explanation is available.

Obama, in building his cabinet, has been trying to construct a bona-fide Team of Rivals, a la Abraham Lincoln, in which both parties are forced to make concessions to each other to get things done, but more gets done as a result. Obama has, predictably, taken flak for this as well. Sam Donaldson said in his defense, "Better to have them inside the tent peeing out, than outside the tent peeing in." Jon Stewart, in keeping with The Daily Show's mission to poke fun at whoever's in charge, had a few choice words to say about that.

This type of reaction is to be expected, I think. It's a well-known fact that you can't please all the people all the time, but decisions like this seem like they'll displease most of the people, most of the time. Fortunately for Obama, public opinion is not the same as efficacy - for all the brow-beating he has received and will receive, the results ought to be the gauge of his success. But for that, we have to wait and see, and he'll have to bear the weight of public disagreement in the meantime.

But we've seen one result already: Rick Warren was shamed into removing anti-gay verbiage from his website. Obama's a politician, he's used to this sort of thing and can take it; not so much with Warren - this is a self-appointed shepherd who is accustomed to being surrounded by a sycophantic flock. Warren didn't have to remove the quote, nobody asked him to do so, and nobody applauded him for it afterward because nobody who had a problem with it in the first place believes he's had a change of heart.  Having no pressure to take that course of action, and unable to justify it with an external reward he did not receive, Warren is psychologically pushed to own more of this decision as "the right thing to do." This is not an about-face - but it's a step towards tolerance, which is a step in the right direction.

With Robinson now in attendance, Warren is again in an interesting position:  it's too late to reject the invitation to speak - that would have been a viable option, had the two been announced together, or had Robinson been announced soon afterward - but he can't refrain from comment.  Warren is in another position where, no matter what he does, he's likely to take shit from all sides.  And now, look what Warren had to say last week on the Robinson pick (for comparison, this is what Bill Donohue thought about it, and there is no shortage of bile from the peanut gallery).  I think this bears special notice:  amid the cacophony of his own party, Warren is giving a vote of confidence.  Now, this again is not a change of heart, but it is another step in the right direction.  What I'm saying is, it's a long way from "homosexuality is like incest & pedophilia" to "it's good that a gay bishop has been included."

Here's the thing:  both Warren and Robinson are polarizing religious figures.  As much as those on the left are insulted by Warren's presence, those on the right are insulted seemingly as much by Robinson's.  I, for one, wish that Robinson were giving the speech on the 20th, and that Warren were left out entirely.  I think that, for all the mutual insult borne between the two camps for their ideas and their very existence, we're all still Americans and we still have a country to run.  Obama seems to be acting on the principle that, in a lot of cases, it can be more important to get along than to get your way - maybe this wasn't the best way to go about it, or maybe the inauguration isn't the type of event to include, but with all the "shame on you's" and "how dare you's" and "he doesn't belong here's" coming from both sides... maybe this is the kind of thing we need?

Reality Check/Pseudo-Update:  OK, I've been saving this post up for a couple days, and I really ought to include some of the recent developments and other factors that perhaps weigh more heavily in the analyses of others.  For instance, while Warren is getting the "prime-time" spot, Robinson was given a speech on the Lincoln Memorial yesterday.  Yeah, I didn't see it on the news, either.  Now, sure, maybe you were busy - I was playing Sins of a Solar Empire with my roommate - but not to worry!  It appears that yesterday's events just weren't covered.  Yeah.  That's right.  You can get the text of Robinson's speech here, but I did searches on msnbc, CNN, Google, YouTube, even Fox, and I couldn't find one single bit of coverage of the events themselves yesterday.  So yeah, if you saw some coverage, please let me know and I'll be sure to include it.  Though this could have been some kind of clusterfuck communication error, it sure looks like malicious planning.  Argh.

Genuine Update x4:  First, NPR covered the kickoff (I heard from a coworker), but did not actually include Robinson's opening prayer.  Second, Team Obama is apologizing for Robinson's lack of coverage, and plans to make up for it by showing a recording tomorrow.  Third, I added some comparison quotes to Warren's above (thanks to Pam's House Blend).  Fourth, I found a video of Robinson's prayer:

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