A Progressive Case for Rick Warren

By Geoffrey Garin
Friday, December 19, 2008; 4:13 PM

Many of Barack Obama's progressive supporters feel let down by his choice of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Inaugural. I understand why, but here's a different way to look at it.

The real story here is not that President-elect Obama has somehow blessed Rick Warren's views on abortion or gay rights, but that one of America's leading evangelical pastors has decided to bless the presidency of someone who is strongly pro-choice and committed to the civil rights of gays and lesbians. That's a rather extraordinary development.

Does anyone think the selection of Rick Warren means that Barack Obama will govern differently on social issues than he said he would during the campaign? I certainly don't. There has been a remarkable "what you see is what you get" quality to President-elect Obama's political career, and there's every reason to think that will continue to be the case.

Rick Warren is the one who is making the bigger statement here. In no uncertain terms, the best known pastor of our time will be telling his followers and fellow evangelicals that there is nothing ungodly about a president who believes that government shouldn't interfere with a woman's right to choose and that gays and lesbians deserve the protection of our laws as much as any other American. That's a moment progressives should celebrate.

Of course, there are other important aspects of Obama's selection of Warren. After the purposeful polarization of the Bush presidency, Americans are hungry for leaders who will move our country to a point where it is okay to agree to disagree, and where we can still find common ground even when some of our disagreements are fundamental. Americans elected Barack Obama in no small part because he promised to be that kind of leader.

Obama has told us all along this is an all-hands-on-deck moment for America, when we have to start acting like we are all in this together. Putting that view of leadership into action as president isn't easy, but we are much worse off as a country because President Bush never tried for even a moment when he had the chance eight years ago. I have every confidence that Barack Obama will stay true to his campaign commitments on gay rights and reproductive health, but I'm also glad he is keeping his promise to lead us toward a more united, less polarized America.

The writer is president of Hart Research Associates and conducts polling for many Democratic candidates and progressive organizations.

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