Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Rick Warren and Barack Obama

I’ve finally dug myself out from under a massive pile of bluebooks and final papers, the inspiration for a Culture11 piece that should appear shortly. I’ve got one more pressing task, with a deadline tomorrow, but I couldn’t resist commenting on the news that Barack Obama has asked Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his Inauguration. Our friend Jordan J. Ballor summarizes the reaction, especially from the secular (and gay) Left, which is none to happy about the attention being given to a vocal opponent of Proposition 8.

I have three quick thoughts, beginning with an obvious one: Rick Warren couldn’t turn down the invitation.

If they’re political, as they doubtless are, Obama’s motives for issuing the invitation are twofold. One is not to repeat the "gays in the military" mistake that Bill Clinton made early in his first term. He’s signaling to this staunch Democratic constituency that they need him more than he needs them. A smart political move; it’s not like they’re going to run to the GOP. And there’s plenty of time to make nice before he has to raise money from them again (not to mention the fact that now’s not a good time to be raising money anyway).

Second, Obama is making a symbolic appeal to evangelicals. They’ve often had to be satisfied with symbolism from Republicans. Perhaps, he’s thinking, he can satisfy them in a similar way, using "respect" and lip service to peel a few more folks away from the GOP, some of whose members would like to see them gone anyway.

I may have some more thoughts on this later, but I must return to my more pressing task.

Discussions - 5 Comments

Concerning the GOP: It is a risky business (and self-defeating) to purposely send away a large portion of one's coalition. The Democrats did this starting in the late 60s by running traditional Democrats who were also pro-life and Catholic (think Casey) out of the party--it ended up in what we now know as the Reagan Democrats and led to the Republican majority of the 90s (RIP).

If some Republicans feel uncomfortable with the Evangelicals, they should engage them, not send them down the road.

Really smart move by Obama. He understands that one can minimize the intensity of some of one's opponents by showing them public respect even as one pursues a policy agenda that they might disagree with. Does anyone doubt that Obama's judicial appointments will tend to favor judicial imposition of gay marriage?

But tone also matters. By showing moderate-to-conservative evangelicals public respect, he might lessen the intensity of their opposition to him. They probably still won't vote for him, but they might contribute less time and money to the Republicans. The difference is on the margin, but it could be pretty big.

Obama also gets points from centrists for rebuffing the more zealous pro gay marriage folks. They really have conducted themselves like intolerant jerks in the Rick Warren affair, and Obama's counter that political differences should not involve politcal venom is both right and politic. The only people who disagree with it are people who are going to be pro Obama anyway. They might complain now, but he knows they aren't going anywhere.

All this without giving up anything on substance. Smart guy.

Rhetoric in this case contains a lot of substance. That is, it's not just smart politics, it's healthy for America. The left and the Demos sorely need to relearn minimal political/social civility, especially towards Evangelicals. More of this kind of "smarts," please. More of this kind of Obama-dignitas. It's good for us.

As long as the evangelicals are out of power, as long as they are not fueling religious hatred against Muslims, as long as their sun is setting, their influence declining, and their left-behind motives eviscerated, then sure, more of these 'smarts' please. P.S. 30 days left on the bush countdown clock.

Is it possible that Obama simply believes that the Inauguration is a national not a partisan occasion? For this one day, at least, we celebrate the possibility that the whole political spectrum can feel as one. Very Jeffersonian; not strictly true, but shrewd.

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