The conversation around Pastor Rick Warren and the inauguration of our 44th president is a lot like the conversation about President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet picks. The uniting thread is a basic misapprehension regarding the underlying logic of Obama's so-called "team of rivals." They are chaos without the president. This is the logic of leadership.
At first glance, sure, the president-elect might seem to be the ultimate confidence man. His manner is unflappable as he looks you right in the eye, calms you with that winning smile, and robs you blind. He's from Illinois, after all. To many on the progressive side, the campaign for change seems like a good old fashioned bait and switch, with the final indication being Team Obama's announcement last week that Rick Warren would deliver the invocation at the inauguration on January 20.
Here's what's missing from the grouch and brainstorm so rife among the dyspeptic tide of liberal resentment: a coherent thought. Obama is precisely who we wanted. He's going to deliver the promised change, and we just can't see it. And that's how it should be, folks, because if we could see what Obama sees, we wouldn't need a transformative leader. Remember, we elected him because he had the vision thing.
Still, here's a guy who pointed a righteous finger at hawks like Hillary Clinton and then invited her to be his secretary of state. Is she a hawk? Sure. Is Obama? Indeed. He always was. The troops under Commander in Chief Obama aren't coming home. They're going to another war. What about something less controversial, like agriculture? Will we see change there? Tom Vilsack is a corndog Big Ag Iowa huckster who has made a career bivouacked in the deep lobby pockets of Monsanto. How will he do the right thing? He'll do it because it's his job. None of the appointees stand out as shockingly vital choices. They are old hands with a new kind of boss.
No? Okay, since it's almost Christmas let's try this tack: Obama is Santa Claus and these appointees are his reindeer; he's got the reins, and the magic, and the sled doesn't fly till he says so, and it only goes where he says it goes.
Here's a strong possibility: the 2008 election was won by one of the greatest political minds this country has seen in my lifetime.
With that in mind, what do you make of Rick Warren? Leave aside what you think of his politics (he's a professional homophobe among other things), was this a gaffe? I'd respectfully submit that it was a strong marketing move.
While the absurdly stupid among us might applaud the bravado of selecting Rev. Jeremiah Wright to deliver the invocation, and the mainstream dullards among our ranks might nod approbation were the choice someone more anodyne like Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, or, indeed, any other distinguished minister of African-American descent, the real test here is not what you or I would like to see happen (because we both know it never will this side of Sweden). The real test is how it plays in the country as a whole.
Rick Warren was the perfect choice. Obama is not throwing the LGBT community under Rosa Parks's bus. He's doing what Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong advocated in their book Crashing the Gate. He's saying to the lefty throng: I'll take care of your needs later. Right now, let's get everyone on the same page. The page we want everyone on right now is the one that says the president-elect can do no wrong. Once we're there, he can be an incredible ally to the LGBT community and realize the many promises he made during the election cycle.
How does picking Warren get him closer to the ideal power position? A lot of folks out there in the votersphere don't yet know that Obama is not a militant Muslim. Among that segment of voters, Muslim was code for African-American. Were it not for Rev. Wright entering the national conversation and the ensuing slimefest, we would not be looking down barrel of a Warren invocation. Warren is the strange fruit of the McCain-Obama collision.
As it stands, we've got a president-elect who is putting Rev. Jeremiah Wright behind him for good so he can deliver on some campaign promises. Stay tuned... And keep the faith.