I’m a lefty and what Obama’s Warren pick means to me

In an article for NPR, David Weinberger tells his fellow liberals to “chill out”. That Obama’s pick of Rick Warren to participate in the inauguration is actually a good thing; a case of bridge-building promised by President-elect Obama during his campaign.

My first impulse was to disagree, vehemently, both with David and with Obama’s pick. Kathryn Kolbert at CNN best explains why this is so

Warren has worked hard to cultivate a moderate public personality but his views are very similar to those of traditional Religious Right leaders.In an email sent before the 2004 election he wrote a Falwell-esque message proclaiming that, for Christian voters, the issues of abortion, marriage for same-sex couples, stem cell research, cloning and euthanasia were “non-negotiable.” In fact, he said, they are “not even debatable because God’s word is clear on these issues.”

Warren is adamantly against reproductive rights for women; against gays, for all of his talk of serving gay people water and donuts. He is worse, in many ways, than someone like Falwell, because he pretends to be open-minded, when he is anything but. There is no bridge-building with a man who coldly and unequivocally rejects equality for gays, reproductive rights for women, and, frankly, religious freedom for everyone.

Warren is a man who will sit at one end of whatever bridge is being built, and demand that it meet him, rather than make any movement to build any part of the bridge, himself. His choice leaves me to wonder: why are we progressives always asked to give? To sacrifice our beliefs, our rights, our hopes and dreams for true equality in this country? In particular, why should women and gay rights be the pillars on which this new “bridge-building” occurs?

Obama’s choice is a painful one, given how this country has suffered under a religious fundamentalist-backed president for eight years. And especially painful, following the passing of the constitutionally authorized bigotry that was Proposition 8 in California.

As I wrote earlier, my first impulse was to disagree with Obama’s choice, but now, I’m beginning to think it may be an excellent choice in the long run—and not because of any absurd statements about “bridge-building”. The left is coming perilously close to deifying President-elect Obama, and that’s not a healthy state for us to be in. We needed something to shake us up, and it would seem that Warren’s pick is it.

In the last few months, we’ve built up such a faith in Obama that to criticize anything he does, even mildly, brings down “wrath of the progressives” upon our heads. Obama can do no wrong, and though he has made, to me, and others, some questionable choices for his Cabinet, the most that happens is a sage, head-nodding among his loyal supports, as we admire his bridge-building skills. When we do have concerns, we whisper them rather than speak out loudly. We’ve become fearful that any criticism will lose the floods of Republican conservatism and all hope will be lost.

The real danger in our country isn’t so much that we’re parties at odds with each other. There is no such thing as a country by consensus, and every politician knows the unobtainability of this dream. No, the real problem isn’t that we question those ranged against us, but that we don’t question those on our own side.

During the Presidential campaign, John Scalzi published a post titled, Reminder: There’s No Actual Office for “President of the Left”. In it, he wrote, Obama’s probably also aware that he’s got the left in the tank.

he’s got the left in the tank…

Obama has made a choice for his inauguration that, to all intents and purposes, betrays the very progressives whose base he relies on. Rather than “chill out”, we should be shouting our anger out, loud and clear, not only to remind ourselves what being a progressive really means, but also to remind Obama that, contrary to expectations, he does not have a lock on us.

Obama cannot assume we will look upon him, forever a day, with the indulgence a parent gives a favored child; that he can make decisions like this with impunity, based on an assumption that we “lefties”, as David calls us, will grumble and growl but ultimately stand behind him as our dear leader. No matter what. Such an assumption emasculates the left, doing little more than reducing us to sycophants and bobbing heads. Blind belief in one’s chosen leader may be acceptable to the fundamentalists, but it ill suits progressives. We needed a reminder of this, and now we have it.

Choosing a man (Warren) who symbolizes exclusion (and then hides such, when caught), as a way of symbolizing inclusion, just does not compute to this progressive. Mr. President-elect Obama, sir, you blew it with this one.

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