Sorry, folks (especially Ari), for the light posting during the holidays. Family does have a way of consuming one's blogging time.
At any rate, a quick thought that I've been stewing over since Obama's announcement last week that Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church will offer the opening prayer at next month's inaugural ceremonies. As I recall, President Clinton made numerous outreaches to the conservative evangelical community during his presidency. He spoke at evangelical churches. He encouraged prayer in public schools. Many of these attempts, while no doubt political in nature, were, I believe, sincere. That is, Clinton is a commited Christian and believed that he had a common spiritual agenda with many of the religious right. What's more, these outreach attempts had costs within Clinton's own coalition. Many on the left (e.g.: supporters of abortion rights, defenders of secular public schools, etc.) were not comfortable with such efforts and felt just that much less enthusiastic about defending Clinton as a result.
In the end, Clinton's efforts amounted to roughly nothing. If anything, the religious polarization of the nation only grew, with self-described evangelicals voting even more Republican. And it's not as though the conservative Christian community offered forgiveness or absolution during the impeachment. Meanwhile, Clinton gave some bipartisan legitimacy to ideas and individuals that had properly been considered conservative while disappointing his own supporters.
I get the impression that Obama is going down that same route. I don't think it's smart politics to reach out to Pastor Warren, simply because it angers his own coalition members (notably including, but not limited to, gays and lesbians, whom Pastor Warren has compared to pedophiles) while begging the support of a community that will likely attack him ferociously throughout his first term and his reelection campaign. Perhaps he did it as a personal favor to Warren, who has extended some courtesies to Obama at key times in Obama's career. This is fine, but there are far less public ways for a president to return a favor.
Wild shot in the dark: if we listen closely to that Yale poet he's got on tap too, we'll see some message balance, and she'll overshadow some guy reading a Bible passage. The only thing I remember from Clinton's swearing in is that awful Maya Angelou poem about the mastadons.
Warmed over Rick Warren? That's what I get for my subscription dollars? I was really hoping for a post about Miley Cyrus. Oh well.
As much as political calculation enters into everything, and I would tend to agree with your analysis of what it amounts to here, I'm not interested in whether Obama wins or loses politically by doing this. I'm happy even though I dislike Warren's politics because inviting him fulfills the promise about creating a more inclusive political atmosphere.
Must one be tolerant of the intolerant?
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