Fighting Back in the Age of Obama

"The middle way is no way at all. If we finally fail in this great and glorious contest, it will be by bewildering ourselves in groping for the middle way." -John Adams, 1776

I've spent the last week or so debating with my friend and fellow Huffington Post contributor Lee Stranahan the significance of Rick Warren's syllabus of ridiculous statements and how it's an awful idea to be rewarding such remarks with a speaking part on the inaugural dais. Despite Lee's better efforts to convince me otherwise and regardless of my support for the Obama campaign and transition, I simply can't go along with the president-elect on this one.

I can absolutely tolerate the tradition of inviting a pastor to deliver an invocation at the inauguration (despite the establishment clause), but this particular pastor has a closet full of Santorum-ish pederasty remarks and Buchanan-ish alcoholism metaphors that ought to fully disqualify him from speaking at this otherwise historic occasion. And I still can't quite grasp the political upside for the president-elect, especially given the very un-Obama distraction and drama that's accompanying it.

But this isn't necessarily another angry take on Rick Warren.

This is about fighting back in the age of Obama.

The maxim that's been most often tossed around this week to explain the Warren invitation has been: "We can disagree without being disagreeable." Some supporters of the president-elect's choice of invocation speaker have grappled onto this idea in the spirit of the Obama change message and used it as a blanket explanation for why we should embrace Rick Warren -- even though his more controversial remarks, by the way, are nothing if not "disagreeable."

It's important to underscore that this maxim, while repeated in the spirit of unity, also contains the word "disagree."

And it goes without saying that many of us vigorously disagree with Rick Warren's comments on same-sex marriage and abortion, not to mention his vocal condemnation to hell anyone who doesn't abandon their Judaism. But for whatever reason, we're expected to go along with this one as if Warren were just another random pastor. We're expected to just suck it up and take it even though some of Warren's public statements have denigrated millions of Americans. We're told by very serious people to grow up. You know, in the spirit of not being "disagreeable."

Nevertheless, we can bet on the fact that the far-right is going to be uncorking a pandemic of crazy so unrelenting as to make the 1990s seem quaint by comparison. And I worry that if this notion of political and ideological détente is taken too far and too seriously, we're going to be summarily stampeded by a doped-up herd of shrieking Limbaughs, and then collectively atomic-wedgied by the far-right until the president-elect is rendered as ineffectual as Majority Capitulator Harry Reid.

"If we finally fail in this great and glorious contest, it will be by bewildering ourselves in groping for the middle way," John Adams wrote in a letter to General Horatio Gates, the hero of the Battle of Saratoga.

Adams didn't make any blanket claims against all forms of compromise -- in fact, democratic politics is all about finding a "middle way" and despite his bellicosity, Adams knew this. But the middle way doesn't apply this time. Should we have found a middle way with Rick Santorum when he compared same-sex marriage to pedophilia and bestiality? No way. In fact, everyone including the eventual president-elect worked to forcefully eject Santorum from the U.S. Senate in 2006, mostly because of his terrible and weird "gay marriage is like bestial marriage" remark, as well as other trespasses against liberty, decency and tolerance. I can't think of anything more disagreeable, in fact, than spending millions of dollars to fire a man of from job. And Rick Santorum sure as hell deserved it.

But then again perhaps we should've found a middle way with Santorum. Maybe we should've looked beyond his divisive, derogatory "man on dog" comment and elevated his brand of wingnut zealotry -- you know, in the spirit of inclusion. After all, the Senate should reflect all of the views of America, no? No. Even if at that time we were seeking common ground with the Senate Republicans, I can't imagine recusing ourselves from attacking Santorum's brand of fundamentalist hackery.

On some topics a middle way can, no doubt, be found between the left and conservative evangelicals -- but that doesn't mean hugging-it-out with someone who quite literally said that making abortion rare is like denying the Holocaust. Just because Rick Warren is jolly and friendly doesn't mean that some of his stated views are any less incendiary than other similar awfulness spoken by the likes of Rick Santorum or Pat Buchanan or Rush Limbaugh.

So where's the line here? How crazy is too crazy before we're permitted to let slip the dogs of progressive war and forcefully declare "enough!"? As someone who has followed the president-elect's career, I can't imagine that he's suggesting that we're not allowed to stand up for our values with an appropriate level of force.

That's precisely why this could be President-elect Obama's first post-election political blunder.

Rather than asking us to accept a less offensive character from the right, the president-elect has asked us to embrace someone whose more obnoxious assertions rival the most extreme views of the opposition -- on the most extreme and divergent issues. So we're being told that vocal opposition to even the most terrible proclamations of the far-right is simply unacceptable in Obama's America. Affording him the benefit of the doubt, however, I don't think this is the president-elect's intention, but that's exactly how it comes off. In other words, if there are more Warren debacles on the way, the president-elect could end up permanently and irreversibly alienating his left flank while castrating his most loyal supporters, thus laying out a nice smooth track for the on-coming Republican crazy train.

Order my book: One Nation Under Fear, with a foreword by Arianna Huffington. Also available in stores.