January 1, 2009

      "Why are those gays so
     mad about Rick Warren?"

Millions of joyous Americans are expected to be attending Barack Obama's historic inauguration as president of the United States on January 20th. Among the many Democratic Party constituencies, few were more ethusiastic and supportive than LBGT folks (i.e., Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transgender folks).

After eight years of being demonized or ignored by the Bush administration depending on varying political expediencies, this constituency was more than ready for the changes so eloquently promised by Obama. In fact, change was the centerpiece of Obama's campaign along with a promise to end the culture war politics of division and polarization perfected by the Republicans.

Propostion 8, known to many of its opponents as "Proposition Hate," abolished the right of gay folks to marry and threatened to void 18,000 existing same-sex California marriages.

To achieve his two terms Bush made gay baiting a prominent part of his electoral strategies, including support for a Constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. Virulently fundamentalist anti-gay preachers were publicly embraced and often visited the White House. Their churches received federal tax payer funding for "faith based" administration of public services.

So it's not hard to image how high expectations were raised for gay Americans when a Democrat promising fundamental change carried the day last November 4th. However, those expectations were quickly tempered by news that on the same day Proposition 8 had narrowly passed in California. Propostion 8, known to many of its opponents as "Proposition Hate," abolished the right of gay folks to marry and threatened to void 18,000 existing same-sex California marriages.

Rev. Rick Warren Selected to Give Inauguration Invocation
Enter Reverend Rick Warren, a popular fundamentalist Christian evangelist and senior pastor of Saddleback Church. On December 17th Barack Obama announced that Warren would be giving the invocation at the inauguration. The selection was touted by Obama staffers and many of his supporters as evidence of Obama's "big tent" politics of inclusion that welcomes all segments of American life and people of all political persuasions.

In trying to sum up the reaction to Warren's selection in the gay community, it's not much of a stretch to compare it to how African Americans would have reacted if President Johnson had selected segregationist Governor George Wallace's pastor, himself a staunch segregationist, to give his inauguration invocation in 1965.

Warren's blatantly anti-gay statements are both recent and a matter of public record, including comparisons of gays to child molestors, pedophiles, and those that commit incest. His Saddleback Church also officially bans gays from membership, although interestingly, this unpleasant fact was erased last week from the church's official web site. Quoting directly from the church web site before it was removed, the statement read: "Because membership in a church is an outgrowth of accepting the Lordship and leadership of Jesus in one’s life, someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted at a member at Saddleback Church."

On a more personal note, disillusioned gay Democratic supporters of Obama from all over the country have been cancelling inauguration parties. The reason? As told to me, they just can't stomach watching an avowed anti-gay bigot like Warren getting the opportunity to show his face to one hundred million or more people.

It is also important to note that gay supporters of Obama are not alone in feeling anger and dismay over Warren's selection. While there are no available polls on this issue that I am aware of, I think it's fair to say that opposition to Warren giving the invocation includes many progressives, liberals, and lefties in the Democratic Party. Warren also holds strongly misogynist views on the treatment and role of women in society and believes god does not allow Jews to get into heaven.

So Why Did Obama Pick Warren?
I am not, of course, privy to anything emanating from Obama's inner circle as to why he selected Warren to have such a visible role in the inauguration. It does seem obvious, however, that Obama made a political calculation that Warren might be useful to him in gaining a foothold, however modest and tenuous, amongst some fundamentalist Christian voters. While I question Warren's real value to Obama, I am not opposed in principle to reaching out to any and all possible constituencies.

The problem was not in Warren attending the inauguration or even in having some sort of role. The problem was selecting an individual publicly known and identified for his anti-gay bigotry, misogyny, religious intolerance, and vocal opposition to the theory of evolution to address the entire nation, and indeed purportedly represent the spiritual side for the entire nation in his invocation.

Whatever Obama's intentions were or were not, what counts in politics are the effects of one's actions. The effect of selecting Warren was to send a message to gay voters that their feelings, aspirations, and material interests will have to take a back seat to Obama's political desire to broaden his base. No amount of explaining by the Obama camp, and no public statements by Obama that he is a "fervent support of Gay and Lesbian rights," can undo the message Warren's selection has sent to the gay community. I believe Warren's selection also has sent an unacceptable message to many others in the Democratic Party coalition that helped elect Obama, even if that message was not as clearly recognized.

What's equally troubling is the fact that Obama is clearly intelligent and well-informed enough to know that gay voters, an important Democratic Party constituency, as well as many others in the party, would likely be up in arms over Warren having such a visible role in such an historic inauguration.

There is also an even more fundamental issue which Warren's selection raises, the historic failure in recent years of the Democratic Party to deliver when it counts to its most loyal constituencies.

Beware of "Track Tossing"
Indeed, the main stream of the Democratic Party has treated its large left-of-center constituency as if it had become infected with the Ebola virus. We are neither to be seen nor heard except at the polling booths come election time. In the case of Warren, gay Obama supporters were obviously considered the easiest ones to toss onto the tracks, and this occured before Obama has even assumed office.

Indeed, the main stream of the Democratic Party has treated its large left-of-center constituency as if it had become infected with the Ebola virus.

Earlier during the campaign, the party's liberal and progressive base was tossed onto the tracks when Obama changed his position on FISA. If we go back to the days of Bill Clinton, we can find numerous examples of "track tossing."

Whether "track tossing" becomes a regular Obama practice remains to be seen. On the one hand, Obama has correctly followed a "big tent" policy, trying to build as broad a base as possible in order to overcome both Republican and corporate media opposition and sabotage. But such a strategy can only go so far because, when it comes down to it, you are either for or against the issues that divide us.

Can Obama Really Bring Change?
As I stated in my previous blog, the question to be asked and answered in the first six months of Obama's presidency is a simple one: "Will Obama be able to chart a new and more independent course for the nation?" Historically, the White House and the Congress invariably wind up defining our country's interests in the same sentence as short-term corporate interests. It is extremely rare for anyone in politics, other than those on the left, to challenge the basic economic and imperial assumptions upon which both domestic and foreign policy have rested since World War II.

What exactly are these "imperial" assumptions? The number one assumption and motivating factor behind almost every foreign policy decision since WWII is the need to maintain U.S. dominance over the world economy and prevent the Soviet Union (now just Russia of course) from effectively countering and opposing this dominance. If we strip away all the cold war ideological rhetoric, the struggle between the then Soviet Union and the U.S. was always about dollars and cents.

Change is up to YOU and Me
Who among us can deny that the control of the military industrial complex over government far surpasses anything envisioned by President Eisenhower when he warned of this danger back in 1961. The co-opted and corrupted power brokers in Washington are well entrenched and lie in wait to ambush Obama and make sure that change does not take place. The danger of replacing one disastrous war in Iraq with an escalating war in Afghanistan is a very real possibility. If fundamental change is going to come to our country, the driving force is going to have to come from below.

It will come from the many millions of people who worked their butts off to elect Obama.

It will come from people like you and me.