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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.' "

Andrew Sullivan sees--and rejects--the symbolism:

"I think the choice of Warren is almost certainly designed, in fact, as a unifying move - and it is a signal that Obama has every intention of reaching out to Christianists who have some liberal leanings on poverty, the environment, and heterosexual HIV and AIDS. (Check out the last time Rick Warren reached out to gay people with HIV or AIDS.) I understand where Obama's coming from, and I don't think this is an inherently bad idea. Building such a liberal Christianist coalition is something I saw coming, and sadly see no way to avoid.

"But not on the backs of gay people, please, Mr president-elect. Wedge politics is wedge politics, whether practiced by Clintons, Bushes, or, yes, Obama."

Americablog's John Aravosis is less restrained:

"I'm reading a lot about how Obama 'reaches out' to his adversaries, and that's why he's building a track record of inviting avowed homophobes to stand front and center at his campaign events and now his inauguration. Okay, I'm game. So we know being a gay-basher doesn't disqualify you from a seat at the Obama table - in fact, it seems to be an outright qualification for proving Obama's post-partisanship.

"If Obama prides himself on reaching out to all sides of every debate, then why is it that Obama has never sat down with, or promoted at his events, an avowed racist or anti-Semite? If you're going to argue, as some have, that respect for the civil rights of gay and lesbian Americans is somehow now 'liberal' and 'fringe' -- funny that Obama didn't think it was fringe during his campaign when he publicly embraced our community and our rights -- then respect for the civil rights of African-Americans and Jewish-Americans is no less liberal and fringe."

This is not some run-of-the-mill conclave, says Washington Monthly's Steve Benen:

"There's only going to be one invocation at Obama's inauguration, and it will be delivered be a conservative who strongly disagrees with Obama on gay rights, reproductive rights, foreign policy, and modern science. I'm a huge fan of diversity of thought, and if Obama and Warren want to have a spirited dialog, I'd no doubt find it fascinating. But that's not what we're talking about here.

"Indeed, in Obama's response this morning, he seemed to suggest he was returning a favor -- Warren invited him to speak at his church, so Obama is inviting him to speak at his inauguration. The problem, of course, is that the two are in no way comparable.

"I'm afraid Obama's decision, at its core, is ironic. In the name of tolerance, he's elevating someone who's intolerant. In the name of acceptance, he's extending an imprimatur to someone who refuses to accept those unlike himself."

At American Prospect, Ezra Klein trains his fire on Warren's record:

"Warren is not being chosen because he himself is open and inclusive. He thinks abortion a 'holocaust' and urged his flock to vote for Prop 8. He compared gay marriage to incest and polygamy and pederasty, and when asked if he really thought those things 'equivalent to having gays getting married,' he replied, 'Oh, I do.'

"The tolerance Obama is asking for, in other words, is not from Warren. It's from the LGBT community, and women. He is asking them to be tolerant of Warren's intolerance. It's a cruel play, framed to marginalize the legitimate anger of those who Warren harms and discriminates against."

There's another side to this, namely, that some on the right aren't happy either. CBN's David Brody explains:

"Pro-life readers seem to be equally upset at Rick warren for agreeing to it. The Brody File has been flooded with emails and most of them absolutely rip Pastor Warren for doing this. Below is but a very small sampling. I can't reprint all of them but let me just say that pro-lifers are NOT happy with Warren at all.

"Here's The Brody File take: While I understand the justifiable concern coming from pro-lifers and liberals, the bottom line is this: why can't a pro-life pastor pray for a pro-choice candidate? Are politics and past prejudices clouding our judgment here? Warren isn't up there to speak out against homosexuality or push the pro-life issue. Sometimes we all get caught up so much in demonizing the other side that we don't see the forest from the trees."

On Twitter, Mary Katherine Ham has an arithmetic formula: "Do the pander math. Pander to millions w celeb preacher or take a political chance on pandering to those you don't need anymore?"

Atlantic's Marc Ambinder offers a more measured appraisal:

"The furious reaction of partisans to Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation is instructive. The left's bone to pick is that by giving Warren such a prominent inaugural post, Obama is signalling that Warren's views are at least minimally acceptable and legitimately part of the discourse in Changed America. The right's bone to pick is the idea that a pro-life leader would bless the inauguration of man who supports abortion rights.

"In his short political career, Obama has deftly manipulated political symbols to his advantage, but he's never been one to pay homage to one of the most sacred regulations of identity politics, which is that one must take care of one's own kind before turning outward. His mind operates differently. Obama does believe, as many of his supporters do, that there are uncrossable demarcation lines between the reasonable and the profane. But he doesn't believe that Warren, someone he admires for reaching outside his (Warren's) comfort zone on AIDS, is all that different from himself. Obama is simultaneously capable of admiring Warren while disdaining Warren's oogedy boogedy appraoch to gay relationships and his uninformed response to torture. Warren's views might be hurtful to gays; Obama does not think they are harmful.

"That said, his team bungled this a bit. Reaching out to gay groups to give them a heads up might have softened the edge of their reaction and given them internal confidence that they were valued members of Obama's coalition. Dropping the list (like it's hot), without pre-notice, must have seemed like a sharp slap in the face."

Caroline's Candidacy

The Caroline debate continues, with Michelle Cottle rejecting those who say senators shouldn't be anointed on family name alone:

"Of course America does political dynasties: Bayh, Biden, Bush, Clinton, Cuomo, Daley, Dole . . . If you've got an hour to kill, check out Wikipedia's massive entry on U.S. political families, alphabetically subdivided.

"Sure she'd be skipping a few rungs on the electoral ladder. So did New Jersey's Jon Corzine. So did Virginia's Jim Webb. So did Hillary Clinton, for that matter. And, God help us, there's still an outside chance that Al Franken could pull this thing off in Minnesota. As for her simply being handed this particular seat: Until we do away with the ridiculous gubernatorial-appointment system (a worthy cause Blago may have helped along), anyone who gets this seat will have it handed to him/her.

"Let's face it, all rich, well-connected, powerful people kinda think they're entitled to whatever they want. Michael Bloomberg wanted to be Mayor of New York. Jon Corzine wanted to be a Senator--then governor. Perennial failure George W. Bush wanted to be governor, then President. Arnold and Jesse wanted to be governors. Life is just more fun and opportunity-filled when you're rich and famous. Deal with it."

Her New Republic colleague, Noam Scheiber, has second thoughts after "giving Kennedy grief for her Palin-esque stiffing of the press. But, now that I think about it, I don't think Kennedy should answer questions from the press. Nor do I think she should be embarking on an upstate listening tour. It would be one thing if there were an actual election going on and she were a candidate or a potential candidate. But there's no election here. We're talking about an appointment. It doesn't seem fair that one potential appointee gets to--is encouraged to--campaign for the position, while the other potential appointees are told that campaigning for the job would disqualify them.

"If Caroline Kennedy gets to make her case publicly and--crucially--respond to doubts about her ability to do the job, then shouldn't every other potential candidate get the same opportunity? And if, like me, you'd prefer to avoid the circus of having ten or 15 candidates campaign for the appointment, then shouldn't you oppose the idea of Kennedy getting the chance to do it by herself?"

The difference is that everyone else on the list--House members, a mayor, the state attorney general--is a proven commodity in the political arena. Caroline has to show that she can relate to voters and handle the press. It's not so much campaigning as auditioning.

Ms. Kennedy, meet the tabloid culture: "Caroline Kennedy wants to be the next senator from New York, but her voting record is already spotty, the Daily News has found.

"City Board of Elections records show Kennedy has failed to vote in many elections since she registered in the city in 1988 - including votes for the Senate seat she hopes to fill and numerous Democratic faceoffs for mayor."

Woodward's Friend

He lived with the secret for most of his life, and now the man who led to the unraveling of the Nixon presidency is gone:

"W. Mark Felt Sr., the associate director of the FBI during the Watergate scandal who, better known as 'Deep Throat,' became the most famous anonymous source in American history, died yesterday. He was 95."

Here are Bob Woodward's reflections when the secret came out.

New 'Internets' Feature

The news cycle is speeding up, as Editor & Publisher reports:

"The New York Times is planning to launch a new 'Instant Op-Ed' next month that will allow the paper's Web site to post immediate expert viewpoints on breaking news, according to Editorial Page Editor Andrew Rosenthal. 'Our Op-Ed now is very rapid response, but it is at the most the next day,' said Rosenthal. 'We are looking at a way to take advantage of the expandability of the Internet, the back and forth of it and the instantaneous nature of the Internet.' "

Kind of sounds like--what's the word?--blogging.

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