Rick Warren and Respect

Selecting Rick Warren for the inaugural invocation -- effectively giving a presidential endorsement to Warren's self-anointment as "America's Pastor" -- is a Sister Souljah moment for Barack Obama, a demonstration that he's willing to disregard the concerns of a key constituency. It's not his first, but I think it's the saddest, the most hurtful.

During the primary campaign Obama angered his supporters in the blogosphere by voting for the FISA bill granting retroactive immunity to telephone companies that abetted illegal spying. He had said he would support a filibuster of the bill, and he did -- but when that failed, he voted for the bill.

After winning the nomination, he angered labor by appointing an economic team full of proponents of "free trade" -- a turnaround from the primary campaigns in industrial states, where he competed with Hillary Clinton over who was a fiercer (or, perhaps, more disingenuous) critic of NAFTA.

And early in his transition, he caused concern in the peace movement by naming a national security team full of people who supported the war in Iraq, topped by Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates. Obama's opposition to the war was the big issue that distinguished him from other top contenders for the Democratic nomination and won him his earliest support. Now prospects for withdrawal from Iraq are getting murky, and military escalation in Afghanistan looms large.

After running as a candidate of change, Obama is emerging as a president of restoration. These are the politics that brought us a Gingrich Congress and helped usher in the disastrous Bush years by dispiriting key segments of the Democratic base.

Warren's selection has nothing to do with policy, and that just makes it a more
gratuitous insult.

Inauguration Day is shaping up to be a momentous celebration of a new, broader foundation for national unity. Yet on that day, millions of gays and lesbians and their friends and families across the country will get a sharp poke in the eye -- a message that we are marginal and expendable.

Warren has sought to back away from his comments insulting and degrading gay and
lesbian relationships, but they're on the record. His church refuses membership to "unrepentant" gays and lesbians. No matter how sweetly he speaks as he tries to justify himself -- and he is a sweet-talker of the first rank, on par with the President-elect himself -- that is bigotry, plain and simple.

Reaching out to political opponents is all well and good, but it must be based on the principle of respect. Rick Warren has a ways to go in that regard. (There are evangelicals, like Jim Wallis, who share much of Warren's social conservatism but have actually demonstrated a capacity to "disagree without being disagreeable." Warren has not. And there are lots of outstanding religious leaders who are women.)

But while Warren's prospects for spiritual growth and social awareness may interest us, it is Obama whose capacity for principled leadership concerns us all. And it may be that he too has a ways to go. A ceremony of national unity is no place for a president to display his so-called political "toughness" by disrespecting people, particularly people who have given him crucial support and who have tied their hopes and dreams to his star.

This sorry episode, on top of previous slights to constituencies, makes one thing clear: Obama supporters should be prepared to stand up for principles when the new president leans toward accommodation.