Who really gives a rat’s ass about an invocation anyway?

Let’s add things up: our economy is in the toilet; economic inequality is at a historic high; the political right is using our economic woes as an excuse to try to finish off unions once and for all; our military is bogged down in two intractable wars; climate change appears close to (if not past) the point of no return; our health care system is a national disgrace; and, last but not least, Bush & Co. are doing everything in their power to try to make all of the above even worse on their way out the door (by way of last minute regulations and the “burrowing” of political appointees into civil service positions).  

So what are liberal bloggers and discussion groups spending most of their time talking about? Why, the invocation speaker at Barack Obama’s inauguration, of course.

Is it just me, or is there something just a bit, well, out of balance about this picture?

Clearly, Rick Warren has said some hateful things about gays and lesbians (even as he expresses his love for them now): even more disturbingly, perhaps, he played a prominent role in the campaign to pass Proposition 8 in California. Given the freshness of that wound among the gay and lesbian communities, it’s easy to understand why they’re as upset as they are about this honor being handed to Warren. So while I understand (and generally agree with) Obama’s desire to reach out to the more moderate elements of evangelical Christianity, this was a shameful slight to a constituency that strongly supported his candidacy.

Still, is it overly presumptuous to suggest a little perspective is in order here? Not only has Obama not endorsed Warren’s homophobic views, he’s expressly rejected them. We’re talking about someone offering a prayer here, not getting a cabinet post. Yet, click over to the Democratic Underground, or any of a number of liberal discussion sites, and you’ll soon find thread after thread filled with outraged pledges to burn old Obama yard signs, tear up his t-shirts and to be generally done with him forever.

Jesus, folks, get a life.

I realize that this post is likely to offend some of my (far too few to gratuitously offend) loyal readers and I’m sorry for that. But the apocalyptic nature of these comments on liberal web sites has been bothering me, maybe more than it should. I have no problem with people giving Obama hell about this — or anything else for that matter. But to begin making such grand statements — entirely rejecting Obama’s potential as an agent of positive progressive change — this early isn’t just stupid: it’s destructive to the progressive cause. As I said a little over a month ago:

Let’s face it, Democrats in general — and liberals in particular — can be a rebellious lot. Already, many progressives are grumbling about the president elect — and with some justification (Obama’s seeming support of Joe Lieberman and his alleged unwillingness to repudiate entirely Bush’s national security power grabs are prime examples of why). It won’t be long now before some liberals start announcing that they’ve written off Obama entirely as a lost cause.

That’s what liberals often do. That’s who a lot of us are.

But it’s a path that in this case can lead only to disappointment. If Obama fails, liberal politics fails. It’s that simple.

So we have no choice other than to make sure that he succeeds.

So does that mean progressives have to swallow whatever Obama does? That we must overlook his failings? Walk in lockstep with the man even when we believe he’s betraying progressive ideals? Hell no.

Obama will soon be awash in Beltway thinking — a lonely boat afloat on a huge ocean of entrenched interests. We in the progressive community are his lifeline (whether he likes it or not). We’re the fabled little bird whispering into his ear, reminding him of exactly what it was that inspired him to go into public service in the first place.

So by all means, liberals should give Obama the full level of grief he has coming for selecting Warren to give the invocation. But perhaps those ready to give up on him entirely should try taking a deep breath, maybe take a sip or two of wine and give the guy — and the progressive cause — a fighting chance.

11 Responses to “Who really gives a rat’s ass about an invocation anyway?”

  1. veganjohn Says:

    D’accord (if I recall my 7th grade French correctly). I see Obama’s choice of the far less than perfect Warren character to give an invocation (in which I am sure he will offer no slights to anyone, whether he believes I, as a happily married (MA) gay man am paving my way to his mythilogical Hell or not) - this is just a way he is trying to expand his administration into a ‘big tent’ - and Obama is NOT a progressive, as much as I and many others may want. He is a pragmatist. And he will do what he can to move our country back from the right-wing cliff we are currently falling off of. But Obama is no progressive. Jeezum crow - he’s want me & my husband to have some stupid civil-union.

  2. Duerksen Says:

    A progressive president-elect should have the balls to say:

    “Prayer? Bring your own; but for Christ’s sake keep it to your self!!”.

    Can’t we get beyond this moronic idea that gurus and witch-doctors have any role in our governance?

  3. info4co Says:

    You are right, in the bigger picture this is a small item. I for one, simply have decided to not participate in the inauguration and am going to stay home. Simple and sweet; without being subject to the insult of having Rick Warren deliver his political payoff prayer at the expense of my deeply held beliefs. I may love Obama, but I do not have to participate in an event that promotes the likes of Rick Warren. If any ticket holding Democrats actually stay home in protest, that would be putting it on the line for real.

  4. mckathiki Says:

    Very well said, as usual, and I totally agree with you. I have thought all along that we historically fractious “liberals”, “progressives” and “the left” might be the beginning of the undoing of all the great things our new President might accomplish. Is it just possible that “we” are incapable of truly working together?

  5. DRDarkeNY Says:

    Fine, Steve - so when he throws YOU under the bus for a cause you believe in (like, um, prosecuting Bush & Cheney for war crimes, say?), do we who are holding Obama’s feet to the fire over throwing Gays and Progressives under the bus have permission to say “Hey, what’s the big deal? It’s not fixing the economy, is it - so why look backwards?”

    And when Obama decides we’ll need to say in Iraq and Afghanistan for another hundred years, it is okay to say “Hey, why the fuss? He never said he was progressive, just pragmatic - and he says it’s pragmatic for our troops to continue dying over in the Middle East for a bogus ‘War on Terror’ for another century.”

    Oh - and when he flushes the rest of the Bill of Rights down the toilet in the name of “National Security” like he did the Fourth Amendment with his FISA vote, will you still agree w/me when I say “He’s not a progressive, he’s a pragmatist - and getting rid of those inconvenient civil liberties is a VERY pragmatic thing to do….”


  6. willymack Says:

    The question in the beginning of the article says it all. An opinion I posted in another blog opined that whatever blather is forthcomong from the charlatan, it’ll probably be remembered about as long as the latest words of wisdom from Paris Hilton.

  7. georgec327 Says:

    The thing that I object to the false legitimacy Warren’s selection gives him and his message. We’ve been hearing the same tired message from the Church for at least the last 600 years. I can’t honestly say that I know anyone who has gone to hell for who they are. I know some people I think SHOULD go there - the sooner the better. Some young people out there are going to start believing that his message, that gays are basically less than human and are going straight to hell if they don’t change their ways, is the only correct one. After all, “I heard it at the Obama inaguration, it must be true.” I’m told that Obama really thought this one through, including who would be upset with his selection. And he went ahead anyway. OK, fine. I think the best thing for me to do is to give the guy the benefit of a doubt and move on. But I won’t forget that this happened.

  8. Wye Knot Says:

    I agree with Georgec327, I will remember. I’ve already given several benefits of a doubt, starting with Lieberman, the vote for the bail out, and Hillary, not to mention the current proposals for Secretary of Education. I’m running out of patience. It’s one thing to reach across the aisle, quite another to jump over the rail and join them.

    You may not see this invocation as a big deal. The thing is, that the invocation at the inauguration is a magical act. It sets the stage for the entire administration, it makes a pronouncement of what can and will be done and who will or will not be allowed to participate. For me it’s not just a slap to the face, it’s much much more. To my way of looking at it, Obama has just asked the devil to give a pronouncement of evil over his administration. Let’s not forget, the fundamentalist right wingnuts were part of what gave us the last 8 years of misery.

    I’m wondering what the number of that bus that hit me is and I’m checking for tire tracks. I will support Obama as long as he takes us in the direction he promised, but it’s beginning to frighten me that that may not be where he’s going.

  9. Simon Jester Says:

    To answer your question, Steve, I care. In common usage, an invocation is a prayer asking for God’s help in some matter, or to put it another way, asking the deity to give the event her blessing — which means asking for divine approval. But from within a spiritual community, an invocation is really more than that, because it sets the tenor of what is to follow by laying out the conceptual framework through which the participants are to understand and internalize what is said and done during the event.

    Congress, for example, opens each session with an invocation. Doing this raises the importance of the work to be performed during the session by implying that it will be conducted in accordance with ‘the will of God’. A military leader may use an invocation before battle to instill in the troops a sense that they are performing God’s will, and therefore that the killing which they will do will be seen by their god as acceptable.

    Seen in this way, then, the invocation is a kind of magical act, setting the spiritual context for what the people present have gathered to do. The invocation for the inauguration of a president sets the context for the work which the new leader, in concert with his selected circle, intends to do over the coming years. The energy that is aligned in the gathering is defined by the nature of the invocation, and by the energy which the person performing the invocation brings to it.

    This is why the nature of the person selected is important. An invocation that instills acceptance and cooperation will have vastly different results from one that instills divisiveness, as will be the case with Obama’s choice. That is why I care who presents the invocation.

  10. Again Says:

    good question, DRDarkeNY

    and yes, IMHO, discrimination is always a cause to hold feet to the fire, doesn’t matter, if the offended person is gay or lesbian, black or female, almond-eyed or blue eyed - discrimination is nothing else than lack of respect and therefore denial of dignity

    discrimination and democracy will never, ever come together - not even for the sake of pragmatism. Btw, IMHO, is the way to hell paved by pragmatists…

  11. Larkrise Says:

    Bush and Cheney set the tone and the example for 8 years. It has been one of lies, corruption, and manipulation. It has been incredibly destructive. It gave the green light to Wall Street to engage in all kinds of nefarious financial practices. It has been “Every man for himself”; “get while the gettin’ is good”; “let them eat cake,” ad nauseum. The Presidency is an influential position; but also a symbol of the direction the country is going. People do notice the actions of the President. He, or someday, She, sets the example. I understand Obama’s desire to build bridges instead of walls. But, he needs to exercise a bit of sensitivity in doing so, like it or not, pragmatic or not. The Gay Community has long suffered from the kind of bigotry and rejection that Rick Warren has espoused. He worked long and hard on the Prop. 8 issue to outlaw gay marriage. This happens to be an important civil rights issue. It affects millions of people, who simply want to have the same legal rights that the rest of us do. I think that Obama was remiss in choosing him. I think he was insensitive to the hurt that millions of Gays have felt for years. He could have chosen someone who was less controversial. I dont read many of the liberal websites. But, I sympathize with their anger. We want change; not a slap in the face. Rick Warren symbolizes the last 8 years of having far-right religious beliefs crammed down our throats. I certainly haven’t given up on Obama. Good heavens, he has scarcely gotten started. However, I reserve the right to hold his feet to the fire. He is, after all, a politician, and their track record , as a group, has left many of us cynical and suspicious. I continue to hope that Barack Obama will accomplish great things. Nevertheless, he is not the Messiah; and I think he has a lot to learn.

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