Say It Isn’t So, O!

by Gloria Feldt on December 17th, 2009
in Activism, Politics and tagged , , , , ,

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.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

17 Responses to Say It Isn’t So, O!

  1. Aletha says:

    Yes, you are an optimist, Gloria, as I observed before. It is interesting that it took this choice for you to say Obama has gone too far. I would say his lackadaisical attitude toward the antics of his speechwriter is worse, especially since Hillary Clinton is not exactly in a good position to make a stink about that. How is this particular choice inconsistent with the direction he has been heading all along?

    I am also curious about what you meant by this:

    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.

    How can you compare the two? Their politics seem to me as different as night and day. Did Rev. Wright compare abortion to the Holocaust, or gay marriage to incest and pedophilia? I think I would have heard about it if he had. Actually, most of what Obama denounced when he decided to throw Rev. Wright under the bus made more sense to me than the way Obama rationalized that decision.

    • Gloria Feldt says:

      Aletha-
      Whether or not Obama’s choice of Warren is consistent with the direction Obama has taken in the past, it is very important to register dismay and disagreement with his decisions now that he is president-elect. Since we know Obama is so swayable based on where he thinks the winds are blowing, it’s all the more imperative to apply pressure and all the more likely that our pressure will have an effect (just to continue on my optimistic path!).

      In regard to your question about my comparison of Warren with Wright, you are certainly correct that their politics couldn’t be more different. I thank you for clarifying that point. My reference was to the way they both use demagoguery to fire up hatred or dismiss the basic humanity of certain groups. With Wright, it was white Americans. With Warren, it is gays to be sure but also women since his website advises women to submit to their husbands and he opposes women’s moral agency to make their own reproductive decisions.

      If I were Rev. Wright, I’d surely be furious at Obama for sucking up to Warren after throwing me under the bus so quickly. But actually neither of these men of the cloth are setting a good example for citizens in a pluralistic society.

      • Aletha says:

        I think how swayable Obama may be depends on where the winds are coming from. He seems more vulnerable to pressure from “moderates” than from the left, or feminists. This is not to say people should not protest, by any means. It is important to try to hold his feet to the fire, but perhaps the point is more to make a stand than to change his mind. People can embolden each other by making a stand even if the effort fails in its surface purpose, changing a wrongheaded decision.

        Rev. Wright is a firebrand Liberation Theology preacher, but I would not call him a demagogue. Racism is still a big problem, despite the fact we just elected a half-black male President, and I do not begrudge Wright his anger at white people. Some of the things he said did bother me, but not what Obama cited as reasons for disowning him.

        Wright said this during his National Press Club speech on April 28, which was apparently the last straw for Obama:

        The prophetic theology of the black church is a theology of liberation; it is a theology of transformation; and it is ultimately a theology of reconciliation.

        I read the entire speech. I thought that passage was the crux of his message. This is demagoguery to you? Is that not the caricature Republicans tried to paint, quoting him out of context?

  2. Gloria Feldt says:

    By the time Wright was making that speech, he needed to explain himself, make his words more palatable to the general public. Many of his words a his home church had been far less inclusive, angrier, more bitter and hateful. Justifiably so, I might add. I have sat in numerous African American church services and heard sermons like Wright’s without ever taking umbrage, because I happen to agree the bitterness is warranted, just as I agree the bitterness of Holocaust survivors, and Jews in general about historic persecution, is warranted. However, at the same time, I know that if one wants to bring the widest possible range of supporters into the fold, one must express those sentiments in words others can hear without feeling attacked.

    Think of Martin Luther King or Elie Wiesel as models, and think of the change they have wrought not by attacking their enemies but by patiently and non-threateningly explaining to the vast middle why their causes are just.

    There is a time in the revolution for fiery rhetoric, and there is a time for more measured discourse. The trick is to know which is which and what the ramifications are for the cause one is trying to advance.

  3. LindaA1 says:

    While I believe you are beginning to see the picture, it amuses me to observe most Obama supporters still trying desperately to weave some brilliant altruistic motive into Obama’s in-your-face opposition picks for a political posse.

    His motives are quite clear, actually.

    No worry. In late 2010 or early 2011, you’ll begin to gain some ground as he purses his seemingly lost liberal lips to kiss up to the left again. He has ample reason to believe he can flick off his liberal base until then and still sweep them off their feet in another national swoon three years hence, no matter what he does to them. They have, after all, totally closed their eyes to his searing hypocrisy, mind-blowing flip flops and transparent manipulations for almost two years now.

    I am, however, a notorious optimist myself. I believe Obama’s ego is so inflated by his win and so blinded by his adoring press coverage that he will overestimate the tolerance of his followers and push the “screw you” strategy past critical mass. I’m quite hopeful that Obama will flame himself right out of that teflon suit and experience the collective wrath of liberals scorned. They’re a overly sensitive group by nature anyway.

    Hell hath no fury…I hope.

    And I hope we see it before the NEXT Democratic primary goes down in history as the second unexplainable national hallucination of the political kind.

    • Gloria Feldt says:

      Hey LindaA1, I’ve been missing you. What are your thoughts on Hillary as Secretary of State?

      • LindaA1 says:

        I’ve tried to envision the Secretary of State choice as Obama honoring Hillary and her supporters but I see no evidence that the man ever gives anything to anybody from a purely generous or respectful place. In true Blago-style, he buys and sells everything political one way or the other.

        So that leaves me with two other probabilities: either Obama made a deal with Hillary for the position to get her general election support or Obama thinks he can wrest the Hillary thorn from his side by removing her from the senate and then diminishing the SoS position by elevating the power of the UN Ambassadorship – soon to be occupied by loyalist Susan Rice. This checkmate maneuver has already taken shape with the new Dr. Rice getting a transition team “inside’ the State Department as well as in the UN, and talk of Obama making the UN Abassadorship a cabinet post – on par with Clinton. The no-love-lost relationship between Clinton and Rice is no secret given Rice’s negative comments about Hillary during the primary.

        I agree with you that Hillary would make a great Secretary of State given the freedom to do so. But I fear Obama’s plans for her have nothing to do with achieving great things for the country through excellence in foreign policy. Being the cynic that I am, I cannot help but fantasize the many “get Hillary-use Hillary” scenarios that exist now.

        If Hillary succeeds, Obama will take the bulk of the credit. If Hillary fails, Obama will place the blame squarely on her. Obama beat Hillary on her hawkish war stance by playing the peacenik. Now he can continue the Bush wars, which he knows he has to do to some extent, using Hillary as cover.

        I’m sure when Hillary bargained for, or simply accepted, the SoS position, she figured she could use the post to gain some political advantage. But I’m guessing she didn’t see Susan Rice coming, blurring the foreign policy lines of authority. World War III might just happen “inside” the State Department.

        I love a spirited game of competition so from a purely entertainment point of view, the Clinton-Rice-Obama foreign relations match-up is bound to be a blockbuster. I just hope it looks more like chess than wrestlemania for the sake of the country.

        • Gloria Feldt says:

          Somehow I think Hillary is smart enough to figure out how to make this potential basket of snakes work to her advantage. Don’t you?

          I mean, this is just how it is in Washington no matter who is in power or who you are within that firmament, which is why I am so glad I no longer have to spend a lot of time there. It warps one’s thinking. That’s just a statement of fact; no use to get cynical about it. It is what it is, and anybody who ever thought Obama would be able to change those fundamentals was smoking something.

  4. LindaA1 says:

    I think Barack Obama has shown himself to be a master manipulator with an ease and skill most commonly seen in sociopaths. He exploits his personal attributes to a remarkable political advantage in ways almost undetectable to the human psyche. The man uses a multi-layered finesse that makes spotting a con so difficult that even after you see it, you question what you’re seeing.

    Complicate, convolute, distract, charm, disarm, ridicule. These things work beautifully for those who can fake their way to the high ground and solidify a position there. People give “high grounders” benefit of the doubt making the fantasy less vulnerable to exposure.

    Is Hillary up to tangling with him on the international stage? I’d say she has as good a chance as anybody although Obama is far better positioned for the challenge. Obviously, he’s been playing this superbly fine-tuned illusion game for most of his life.

    But our Hillary’s a fast learner and I’m guessing she’s figuring out Obama’s moves by now.

    And things can change.

    The press doesn’t like being shut up, tossed out and talked down to. Lately, they’ve seen a glimpse of the future with President Barack Obama.

    Liberals are griping under their breaths already. I’m guessing they’ll tire quickly of being self-righteously scolded by President Obama on tolerance (of the “honorable” Rick Warren, for example) when clearly PEBO does not understand the distinction between tolerating a misogynistic bigot and tolerating a difference of opinion.

    If the left starts howling and the press starts questioning, Obama’s house of cards could fall – and Barack may find himself hoist on his own Hillary petard crying SOS of a different kind.

    Who knows? Hillary may still emerge the better political player in all this now that she has Obama on her home court – the Presidency and the White House.

  5. suzanne says:

    I am absolutely appalled about the Warren choice. It’s simply unforgivable to choose someone with his vocal track record on gay rights (or even existence). So some sorts of folks are allowed civil rights and others are not? Considering that the religious right helped McCain lose, it’s not even that O really needs them. So what’s this political calculation about? We all know the guy is not stupid. There’s something going on here. My conservative Christian family members think it’s payback for Jeremiah Wright. I’m not so sure myself. I’m waiting to understand this — I just don’t get it.

    • Gloria Feldt says:

      Suzanne, the question your comment raises for me is why is it that liberals, moderates and progressives reach out despite the evidence that the right won’t ever meet us halfway? Why do we want to “get along” with those whose values are diametrically opposed to ours when the right doesn’t respect what we think in return? To be sure. George W. spoke on occasion of reaching across the aisle, but that was only a bait and switch technique he used (successfully too often) to wield maximum right wing power.

      Would Warren ever reach out to me and say “I want to understand why you believe women are equal to men and need not submit to their husbands”? I think not. He lives in a place of moral certitude that is woefully missing from the moderate, liberal, and progressive side.

      Especially in Obama’s case, with the mandate he starts from, why would he do this? Lincoln said after the Civil War, “with malice toward none, with charity toward all”. Obama has often cited Lincoln as his model. And there is some nobility in that (or at least a strategic reason when there is a political need to to heal wounds), but no nobility in the betrayal of fundamental American values of equality and justice.

      For sure, Warren and his constituents will be very happy to betray Obama first chance they get to vote him out of office.

  6. Aletha says:

    Say, LindaA1, what happened to that ultraliberal agenda you were predicting Obama would bring about? Is he keeping it hidden as some kind of political calculation? I would not put that past him, but it seems to me his agenda is rather moderate, despite the heavy emphasis on change during the campaign. Liberals and leftists are howling because the changes they hoped for do not seem likely to materialize. The primary piece of his agenda one could call liberal is his plan to spend a ton of money to stimulate the economy. Other than that, he seems determined to govern from the middle. Is that all a smokescreen?

  7. LindaA1 says:

    Aletha,

    I’ve said all along that we wouldn’t see the real Barack Obama until the day after his re-election when he’s free to stop manipulating the masses to win the next campaign. Then we’ll see the ultra-liberal come out – unless he finds some new office to run for after the presidency.

    Obama is all about winning the next thing – that’s all he’s ever done. All this moderation and kissing up to the right is Campaign 2012 in operation – nothing more.

    Obama’s so good at the illusion game, however, I expect him to be quietly sliding some foundations for his real agenda into place now when he can do it undetected. He’s like a good chess player, thinking several moves ahead and laying unseen groundwork for the eventual score.

  8. Stacy says:

    What bothers me is that the Democrats continue to treat anti-gay bigotry as just another religious viewpoint, but would they say that about racism and anti-semitism, which also has had a basis (and a justification) in far right Christian “beliefs”? No, they wouldn’t.

    By choosing Warren, who has compared abortion to the holocaust and homosexuality to pedophilia, Obama has fallen for the false premise that such views equally deserve a place at the inauguration when the fact is, those views are so far outside the mainstream Obama really shouldn’t dignify them with such an important role in the event. He could have picked someone else who is a conservative religious leader but who is not such a hate-monger with such draconian views. And the fact that there is a pro-gay rights preacher at the ceremony has no bearing on this issue. I also don’t care if Warren sometimes makes the religious right angry- again, it has no bearing on the issue.

    The sad fact is, the Democrats are not real leaders when it comes to gay rights- not Obama, not Hillary not any of them except Kucinich and Kennedy and a few others- they refuse to do the right thing and stand up for the rights of ALL of us and instead embrace a twisted version of ‘separate but equal’, which history has shown has never worked. It’s all very disappointing because politicians like Hillary and Obama are respected enough to take the heat for standing up unequivocally for gay rights- including gay marriage. Would there be a backlash? Sure, but there has always been a backlash against those who were ahead of their time with respect to civil rights and demanded justice when others would rather sit back and remain politically ‘safe.’ But ultimately, history would view them as courageous and forward-thinking for taking a principled stand.

    One of the big problems is that the Democrats have started to take the “gay vote” for granted- politicians make all kinds of promises to us then when it’s time to walk the walk instead of just talk the talk, they tell us condescendingly that “now is not the time” to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell or to fight for gay marriage. Unfortunately, we are used to being thrown under the bus.

    • Gloria Feldt says:

      As Martin Luther King said, Stacy, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

      I haven’t seen “Milk” yet, but a friend who did observed how far society has come since that time. But it is very hard to stay optimistic when your supposed friends in politics seem to take you for granted.

      Conversely, in the “what are we going to do about it” column, the gay rights groups have in my view jumped in to hold OBama’s feet to the fire more swiftly and admirably than the women’s groups on this one.

      • Stacy says:

        Gloria said:
        “Conversely, in the “what are we going to do about it” column, the gay rights groups have in my view jumped in to hold Obama’s feet to the fire more swiftly and admirably than the women’s groups on this one.”

        Yes, and I am glad that many people- and not just in the GLBT community, are holding Obama accountable and making their voices heard. Every night on the Rachel Maddow Show she devotes a segment to updating people on the controversy and the Obama team’s response. If it weren’t for her show, many might not realize that the other day Mr. Warren put a 22 minute video up on the Saddleback website that seems to have been intended to help subdue the controversy but actually ends up making him sound even worse, if that is possible. Maddow showed clips of it and it is really incredible- his ego makes it impossible for him to just keep his mouth shut until the Inauguration and that actually works to our favor because it puts more pressure on Obama. But unless I missed it, the mainstream media has largely ignored the new web video but you can bet if it were Rev. Jeremiah Wright they would be all over it…

        I never take for granted how far we have come in terms of gay rights and it is probably because of that that I am so disappointed in some of our more progressive politicians- Hillary, Obama, etc. We still have a lot more work to do and as with other groups which have fought (and continue to fight) for civil rights, we need the help of others outside the GLBT community- women’s groups are essential to this effort and it is frustrating to not see them come out more publicly on this issue. And of course it would help if other progressive groups joined in holding Obama accountable.

        I honestly don’t know the best way to deal with the Democratic Party when they play these games- their attitude is clearly that they understand *most* gay people (and pro-choice people, for that matter) will vote for the Democratic ticket in a presidential election rather than vote Republican and I think they in turn think that means we should all shut up and just be grateful that the Party is willing to formally acknowledge we deserve *some* civil rights.

        This whole conundrum with the Democrats reminds me of the time when Lieberman was running against Ned Lamont in CT a few years back (when he switched his party to Independent after losing to Lamont in the primary) and despite Lamont being 100% pro-choice and 100% gay rights, including pro-gay marriage, the democratic party establishment AND many of the most influential national pro-choice and pro-gay rights groups refused to throw their support behind Lamont, much to the frustration of many of us who were tired of the equivocating coming from the Democrats- I don’t know if you remember Gloria, but I contacted you via email about it at the time – that was our first correspondence.

        I guess we just keep speaking out loudly and often.

        • Gloria Feldt says:

          Re: “I guess we just keep speaking out loudly and often,”
          LBJ put it rather more crudely but he was telling the truth: “When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”

          Oh, and Stacy, you were obviously on the leading edge with Lamont. Two years, the rest of the country caught up with you. But the politicians and especially their advisers are always behind the people. Some folks thought Obama was ahead of the curve but really he was surfing it, just catching the wave which he did brilliantly. But leading the wave is quite another thing.

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