Deciding What's 'Unreasonable'

There's been a lot of discussion about Jonathan Chait's piece in New York magazine, "When Did Liberals Become So Unreasonable?" He was on NPR discussing it last week, and he debated Salon's Joan Walsh on Hardball.

Chait's argument is that liberals are being hard on President Obama and that, actually, liberals have never been satisfied with any Democratic president. You've heard this before: Unlike conservatives, we're not loyal enough, and we wind up shooting ourselves in the foot.

Walsh and others have effectively pointed to the flaws in Chait's argument, including the fact that conservatives, too, have been pretty "unreasonable" with Republican presidents. So I'm not going to go into all that.

What I'd like to focus on more specifically is Chait's opening to the piece, which betrays a startling lack of understanding among many in the media of exactly how profound the passage of California's Proposition 8, which banned marriage for gays and lesbians in the state constitution, was for the gay community nationwide. Seeing a majority of voters rescind a right that gays and lesbians had been enjoying -- watching that majority literally strip a right from a struggling minority -- sent a chill through the LGBT community across America. It was a direct assault on a great many Americans and a potent threat to their future well-being. Yet Chait appears to view the expression of that as "unreasonable" carping:

If we trace liberal disappointment with President Obama to its origins, to try to pinpoint the moment when his crestfallen supporters realized that this was Not Change They Could Believe In, the souring probably began on December 17, 2008, when Obama announced that conservative Evangelical pastor Rick Warren would speak at his inauguration. "Abominable," fumed John Aravosis on AmericaBlog. "Obama's 'inclusiveness' mantra always seems to head only in one direction--an excuse to scorn progressives and embrace the Right," seethed Salon's Glenn Greenwald. On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow rode the story almost nightly: "I think the problem is getting larger for Barack Obama." Negative 34 days into the start of the Obama presidency, the honeymoon was over.

Chait fails to mention -- perhaps he even failed to realize -- that all three of the commentators he referenced are gay Americans. Rick Warren isn't just a "conservative Evangelical pastor"; he was a driving force behind the passage of Prop 8 in the same year in which Obama was elected, spewing a message from the pulpit to California voters: "if you believe what the Bible says about marriage, you need to support Proposition 8."

Warren, pastor of the influential Saddleback Church, had made offensive, bigoted remarks about gays, claiming homosexuality "is not the natural way" and that "certain body parts are meant to fit together." He compared homosexuality to incest and pedophilia, telling a Beliefnet reporter, in the context of a discussion of marriage for gays, that he didn't support a "a brother and sister to be together and call that marriage" and was "opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage." When the reporter asked if he believed those are equivalent to gays and lesbians marrying, he said, "Oh, I do."

Warren helped lead the majority of California voters to make that direct assault on the rights of gay people by pushing defamation and reckless rhetoric. In the process Warren no doubt also inspired bellowing anti-gay politicians and gay-bashing thugs on the streets.

And then, the president we worked so hard to elect is inviting him to give the invocation at the inauguration? Really? I don't think there was anything "unreasonable" about each of these gay and lesbian commentators -- Maddow, Greenwald and Aravosis -- reacting with horror to the idea. Whatever the merits of Chait's piece, this was a terrible way to lead it off.

I wonder if Chait would think it "unreasonable" for black pundits to be disillusioned with a white president who invited a supporter of Jim Crow laws to speak at the inauguration. Would he think it "unreasonable" for Jewish commentators to criticize a Christian president who asked an avowed anti-Semite to say a prayer at the inauguration?

I'm sure the answer to these questions is no. Why, then, is pandering to homophobia still treated as something we should accept and not get all "unreasonable" about?