Pastor Trouble, Again

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 19, 2008; 7:32 AM

You might think, in the grand scheme of things, it matters little which member of the clergy delivers the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration.

You would be wrong.

Obama's choice of Rick Warren has caused a firestorm on the left, especially among gays, who feel utterly betrayed.

Granted, this is largely about symbolism. After all, Warren's speaking slot will have no affect on the debate over gay marriage and abortion. Do you remember who delivered the invocation at previous inaugurals? I don't.

But symbolism matters, and no one knows that better than Obama.

Politics, at a most basic level, is about sending signals, finding ways to communicate to people that you share their values. That's why candidates eat corn dogs at the county fair, go bowling and seek endorsements from popular figures.

So the choice of a megachurch evangelical leader such as Warren is a bow to the other side, that is, the side that opposes abortion rights, which Obama supports.

There is always a tension in politics about playing to your base (see Bush, George) and reaching out to the broader electorate. But there is considerable risk of ticking off your base, especially when it is already uneasy with your rather centrist Cabinet. Obama ran as a unity candidate, and it will be ironic if he has the most trouble with the liberal side.

In a "Dateline" interview airing tonight, Warren denies being homophobic. "Of course not," he says. "I have always treated them with respect. When they come and wanna talk to me, I talk to 'em. When the protesters came, we served them water and donuts."

All in all, it sounds like an unforced error on Obama's part, since no one was expecting Warren to have such a platform.

"Decrying a lack of 'adult supervision' in American society," the L.A. Times reports, "President-elect Barack Obama this morning vowed to try to clean up the worlds of politics and finance and called on others to take seriously their own responsibility to 'operate honorably.' "Part of the solution is looking for common ground, he said, as when he asked the evangelical conservative pastor Rick Warren, with whom he differs on some key social issues, to give the invocation at his inauguration.

" 'We're not going to agree on every single issue,' Obama said in a news conference. 'What we have to do is create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and focus on those things we hold in common.' "

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