I hear from friends about how the Obama cabinet picks have got them depressed. I keep wondering what all the progressives were expecting. For once and for all, can we say that Obama is no radical, has no radical past, and has never made promises that tightly align with a leftist agenda? Even his most progressive positions, for example on nuclear disarmament, climate change initiatives, and health care, are mostly couched in pragmatic terms, with decorative flourishes here and there appealing to the liberal ethic ('I am my brother's keeper,' he kept saying early in the campaign).
Then there's the Rick Warren thing. When it comes to his thinking on gays and lesbians, this guy is warped. Of course, yes, progressives can all agree on that. But this warped guy also happens to be the only evangelical figure with a national profile putting a liberal-leaning economic and environmental agenda out front. Partly because of that, he's reaching tens of millions, including many of the younger evangelicals.
A couple things to say. One is that Rick Warren is the perfect protection for Obama's right flank. Obama will be attacked viciously by the Republican machine–we've already seen that from the way the RNC licked its chops in the opening days of Blago's scandal. How to deflect attacks from the right while pushing through the biggest government economic intervention in seventy years? Yep. By bringing in Warren, who's universally granted serious evangelical cred, and putting him in a key slot as a buffer.
Is he sacrificing the gays in the process? Well, yes. But far from taking it as a slap on the LGBT face, I prefer to look at optimistically. It is time to admit, and even celebrate, the fact that out of all the areas of progressive struggle, and I'm talking about labor, environment, anti-war, and everything else that constitutes a broadly conceived left agenda, the only area in which gains were made during the W regime has been in LGBT politics. In fact, I would go as far as arguing that the tipping point in mainstream visibility, familiarty, and acceptance of gays and lesbians pretty much coincided with the W regime. Let's put it this way: even W and his reactionary base couldn't stem the tide of our society becoming increasingly gay friendly, year by year.
If there is any group or part of the progressive agenda that can absorb some regression (in the form of public homophobia as represented by Warren at the inauguration) without breaking, it is the LGBT constituency. I think the reality is, gay marriage gaining widespread legitimacy is only a matter of time, everyone seems to know, both those fighting for and against it, and Rick Warren be damned. The right has lost the culture wars. That means now is the moment to further isolate the Republican base, and bringing Warren into Obama's orbit, no matter how peripheral, serves this function. The older, absolutely unchanging, largely Southern evangelicals can and should now be cornered as truly fringe. Warren, for his part, needs to be put under the magnifying glass of the media, the intelligentsia, and the activists. He will not come out of this clean, from either the right or the left.
And this is the reason to love Obama–no matter his ideological moderation, the man is a political tactician like we haven't seen in a long time, with a taste for complex moves and re-writing symbols. Just when you think he's playing it safe, he drops big question marks. Rather than get worked up about the rightness or wrongness of these moves, we of the left/progressive base need to see them as openings. Now we have the opening to expose Warren, and counter with even greater insistences.