Saturday, December 20, 2008

Spare Change?

Well, I managed to avoid writing about Muntadar Zaidi's encounter with Bush in Baghdad (until now, anyway). I can't believe that anyone reading this blog hasn't already heard / read plenty about it. The only thing I can add is that it's no wonder Bush took it so lightly -- he surely knew that Zaidi was being beaten in the next room, and having subordinates or proxies inflict pain on people is one of Bush's well-known personal qualities.

I've noticed that there are times when I sit down and simply cannot remember all the things I wanted to write about, because one particular issue is in the way and won't budge until I give in and address it. This is one of those times, and the issue is our Messiah-Elect's selection of pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguaration in one month. Of course there's been a flurry of comment on it, in the blogosphere and elsewhere. My no-longer-so-ambivalent Obama-supporter friend left a message on my answering machine yesterday, gloating over the reactions of the "ultraliberals." (Were you serious? Trying to provoke me to post about it? Or were you being satirical? People often say that you can't tell when someone's being sarcastic on the Internet; well, you can't always tell even viva voce.)

My friend's analysis was that it was a brilliant ploy on Obama's part, reaching out to the Christian Right to try to draw them into the big Democratic tent. No doubt that was a major factor; Obama said so in less crassly Realpolitik terms at the press conference where he defended his choice of Warren. I think Glenn Greenwald did a nice, judicious job on this argument at; I'd only add that if he really wanted to show his willingness to reach out to religious "extremists", Obama should also consider mending his rift with Jeremiah Wright. He won't, of course: it's only right-wing extremists he's interested in appeasing.

But then, as Obama also pointed out at that press conference, he invited Joseph Lowery to deliver the closing benediction at the inauguration. Since Lowery has previously shown a tendency to be mildly inflammatory himself, in his eulogy at Coretta Scott King's funeral, he may surprise Obama as much as he surprised Bush. One may hope; one may dream. But using Lowery to balance Warren is classic Clintonian triangulation. Obama had previously shown his readiness to pal around with Warren, a readiness that Warren exploited; and Lowery showed his own willingness to hold Obama to lower standards than Bush. Warren has reportedly assumed a high profile on AIDS in Africa, but the competition among evangelical leaders in that arena is not exactly stiff, and there's evidently reason to doubt his greatness on any scale. This is something I hope to look into more soon, since semester break is upon me and I'll have more time.

I disagree that it's "ultraliberals" who are angry about Warren, though of course these categories and labels are hard to pin down. It seems to me that those who are angry are mostly what I'd rate as moderate liberals, those who were willing to forgive Obama a great deal all through his campaign. Those I think of when I hear the term "ultraliberals" would be those who were skeptical and critical of him all along, and so they (we) were not surprised by Obama's choice of Warren. It's interesting that people can overlook the selection of a bunch of war criminals and assorted other thugs for his cabinet, some of whom are known to have Christian-Right ties as unsavory as those Obama has been revealing for some time now; and what upsets most of them is Warren's antigay stance, not his endorsement of the assassination of foreign leaders.

But at the same time, I recognize that a lot of people who had looked to Obama to bring Change to the Oval Office now feel betrayed, though it's not clear what most of them intend to do about it. "There’s nothing more to say ‘cept Barry — you are DEAD to me," David Ehrenstein boldly wrote on his blog. I know what you mean, David, I defriended him on Myspace too. I expect him to come crawling back, begging forgivenness, any minute now.