Sunday, December 21, 2008

The opacity of hope

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.

1 comment:

Tom D said...

Broadly speaking I agree with your point that people should not be surprised by this.

But I also think that people should not be surprised to find out that there's not much support for gay marriage in the halls of power. One reason is the generic point that leaders typically follow the people not the other way around. And to the extent that the people have spoken clearly, they've said "no." But a bigger reason is that they're just the wrong demographic and people shouldn't be surprised to find out that they are actually truly against it or not for it as a strongly held belief. It's a new thing and politicians are old dogs.

As for the bigger tent aspects I think it's pretty clear that avoiding the identification of particular religious groups with the GOP is bad for the country and, frankly, for the positions those groups hold. Same reasoning as NY, MA, CA, TX and the one-winner-takes-all nature of most implementations of the electoral college. So if this does something on that front then I think it could end up being a good thing.

For whatever it's worth I'm not sure his comments on the mid-east really hurt the US' image as we have nothing left to lose in that regard. That said I think the advocacy of the assassination (let's not use euphemisms) of Ahmadinejad is the proper (and my own) basis for opposing the selection of Warren. Crazy shit like that is something we have to get past for something close to good.

I see a lot of the Bush PR style in Obama but I think that's a reflection of the times. e.g. "The Office of the President-Elect" banners and signs and all that. They make me take him less seriously because it looks a little cartoonish. Not quite as cartoonish as, say, banners with Compassionate Conservative written all over, but still.

But, as I say, a sign of the 24 hour cable news times. People criticized Clinton's triangulation as a sign of a waffling mindset, but it was much a result of having new and better polling data. That and losing the 94 election in a landslide.