Reaction to Obama’s choice of Rick Warren has been swift and predictable. People are unhappy. I don’t blame them. And, as my first substantive post should demonstrate, I take a dim view of the role religion plays in our politics.
I don’t know why Obama chose Warren. There are different ways to read this. Maybe Obama finds common cause with Warren on many issues, and doesn’t consider his views on same-sex marriage and abortion (and whatever other odious views he has) deal-breakers. Maybe he wants to strike an inclusive tone, painting the Democratic Party as the one with a bigger tent. Or maybe it’s just a cynical play for political capital, a bone to moderate evangelicals that will help Obama push through the first elements of his agenda. I’m sure there are other possibilities.
What I don’t understand is why this move surprises anyone. I guess a campaign based on hope would damage our cynicism. But people who expect to dine on more than half a loaf during the next four years should realize that their eyes are bigger than Obama’s stomach.
The need for Democratic presidential candidates to become everything to everyone has become an inexorable part of the party’s ethos. You have to step back from the Bush’s stance on torture, but not without rattling enough sabers to ensure everyone that you’re tough on national security. You need to pay lip service to Palestinians, but never allow the GOP to out-Israel you. You need to seem open-minded, but not say anything too critical about our most extreme Christian religious zealots.
This isn’t something that the Obama campaign rejected. This is something it embodied. The focus on branding, the big slogans, the lofty rhetoric, this is all part of embracing a politics that has more to do with striking the perfect balance than putting forth and defending an ambitious, detailed agenda.
I’m not suggesting that Obama doesn’t have such an agenda in mind. I’m sure he does. But the politics that brought him to power don’t give us reason for disappointment or excuse for surprise. The Rick Warrens of the world are here to stay.