28 December 2008

Rick Warren: Obama's Trap for Gays?

There's been a surprising lack of outrage in this country, as far as I can tell, over Pope Benedict's remarks equating homosexuality with the various perils plaguing the environment. I assume that's because American activists are still raging over the President-elect's selection of Rick Warren to bless his inauguration. The outrage continues on the letters page of the Albany Times Union, where two angry missives appeared yesterday.

Jeffrey Hallenbeck doesn't buy the argument that Obama needs to reach out to conservative Christians like Warren. Homophobia is equal to racism in Hallenbeck's mind. Responding to the paper's explanation of Obama's action, he writes: "There are also many racists in this country; let's also give them a voice at the inauguration as long as we're 'reaching out to the other side.'"

Hallenbeck rejects the idea of reaching out. "You cannot change the minds of the Rick Warrens of the world," he argues, "Many have tried and failed because they labor under the delusion that God is on their side. This pathological belief has been the cornerstone of hate and repression for thousands of years."

This is all well said, but it's still a waste of effort if anyone thinks they can get Obama to retract his invitation. In any event, I doubt that Obama intended it as part of any attempt to change Warren's mind about homosexuality. He's hoping, as do many Democrats, to detach moral-conservative Christians from Republican economic conservatism. That might work because conservatism can easily change to populism. Unfortunately, populism is exclusionary by nature; it's definition of "us" always leaves room for a "them" on whom all the world's problems can be blamed.

Domingo Almonte is "extremely disappointed" by Obama's invitation to Warren, whom Almonte describes as "one of the most divisive anti-gay individuals." That's a big claim in the age of Fred Phelps, but Almonte feels justified in the claim by Warren's promotion of Proposition 8 in California, which supposedly renders homosexuals "third-class citizens." Inviting Warren, Almonte claims, is like inviting the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan to the event. Almonte himself is a "person of color," so he feels entitled to make the comparison.

"What amazes me is that those who consider themselves supportive of our fight for civil rights think it is OK for gays to be thrown under the bus to appease the religious right," Almonte protests, "President Clinton tried to placate the religious right by signing [the Defense of Marriage Act] and to this day, the religious right demonizes him." Of course, people of religious morals have other reasons to despise Clinton, who also tried to pick a fight over homosexuality at the opening of his term. Obama is trying not to do this, but what else is he up to?

Barack Obama is not about to launch a secular or anticlerical crusade. Religion has proven meaningful and useful to him during his career. If he has to pick between people of faith who might put some of his programs over the top and a demographic group that has no place else to go according to the logic of the American Bipolarchy, who do you think he'll "throw under the bus?" And think about this: If Obama ever feels a need to do something like Bill Clinton did with Sister Souljah back in the 1990s to cement his "centrist" credentials, who do you think he'll pick a fight with? Who else would there be? For all we know, that's the actual purpose of inviting Warren to his show. Homosexual outrage distances Obama from the "gay agenda," after all. The controversy may give Obama the distance he wants or feels he needs. So while I urge gay-rights activists and their allies to keep on protesting, Obama is probably also wishing the same thing, and possibly laughing all the way to the White House.

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