Base Thoughts

December 18, 2008

Not that I expect anyone to be interested, but just for the sake of having it on record, let me say I am not at all happy about a bigoted Jesus-whooping wackaloon like Rick Warren being invited to deliver the invocation at Obama’s inauguration. I can only hope Warren’s willingness to appear causes as much distress to his wingnut evangelical base as it does to Obama’s progressive and liberal supporters. Maybe Obama thinks he can peel a few whoopers away from the GOP’s base.

I wanna be a base, too. I want to be part of a group so powerful and committed to political change that candidates have to be ready to throw us a bone or two just to ensure that we troop to the polls on the relevant day.

The best way to accomplish that is to avoid the impulse to sulk, say the whole system is rigged against the left and stomp off to mutter into one’s coffee. I voted for Obama with my eyes open and my mind clear. The comedic ravings from the Republicans about Obama’s plans for a Marxist revolution may have led some people to imagine he was a dream candidate for the Left, but anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex knew that was not the case.  Obama wasn’t a dream, but after eight years of nightmare a return to basic sanity was overdue.

If I were going to be in Washington for the ceremony, I would make a point of standing with my back to Warren as he spoke — there’s nothing that pouch-faced clown has to say that’s of any interest to a rational person. But as soon as he finished babbling, I’d turn back to the stage and start paying attention. We should all keep paying attention, too.

Just remember, Jesse Jackson and Pat Robertson both ran in the presidential primaries of their respective parties a couple of decades ago, and they both got shellacked. But Robertson kept his organization together, and within a few years Republicans were lining up to kiss his ring. Jackson let his organization fall apart, and within a few years he was a national footnote, hanging around the Capitol and asking to be made a “shadow senator” like a guy with a cup in his hand.

So pay attention to what Obama does, and when he does bad, get organized and make him pay for it. The conservatives have wrecked the country, and people are ready to hear what the Left has to say. Our job is to speak, and make sure Obama listens.

ADDENDUM: I like what this Balloon Juice commenter has to say:

If you followed the internal politics of evangelical and fundamentalist leaders, you’d see this for what it is—not an elevation of Warren, but a slap in the face of the old guard leaders like Dobson and LaHaye. They’ve been fighting to see who gets to be the spokesman for the movement, and lately it’s been a tie. Obama just broke it.

And let’s be clear, there is a difference between those groups. Warren may not be progressive on gay rights, but he’s been out front on a number of issues of global justice—traveling from Davos to Damascus, and working hard to get rank-and-file evangelicals invested in “creation care” environmentalism and the fight against global HIV/AIDS.

If he were put in charge of HHS or listened to on gay policies, I’d be pissed. But what Obama is doing here isn’t that. It’s a move that marginalizes the worst on the religious right, elevates a guy who’s more progressive than most religious leaders on a number of issues, and earns him some moderate cred at the outset.

If Obama sells out on the progressive promise in actual policy, I’ll be in the streets protesting with everyone else. But if his “selling out” is having a fairly moderate, popular evangelical give the invocation at the inaugural—when large sections of this country still worry Obama’s a scary evil Mooooslim—then who gives a flying fuck?

One crucial difference between Obama and the Clintons is that Chicago is a much tougher playground that Little Rock, and that experience gave Obama the kind of political street-smarts that helped him beat not just one but two candidates the mass market punditry had declared unbeatable. And he did it all while hardly breaking stride, or a sweat. He plays it close to the vest, that one. Everything I said above still applies, but let’s not start rending our garments and screaming betrayal just yet, okay?