Some final thoughts on Warren
UPDATE #2: Comments back open. I do this from time to time whenever it gets a little hot. Remember it's all love here--even when it isn't.
UPDATE: Uhh, we're gonna pause for a moment commenters. Let's all take a deep breath here and dig some Sam Cooke...
My old colleague John Cloud says Obama "has proved himself repeatedly to be a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot," and offers a historical parallel:
Obama reminds me a little bit of Richard Russell Jr., the longtime Senator from Georgia who -- as historian Robert Caro has noted -- cultivated a reputation as a thoughtful, tolerant politician even as he defended inequality and segregation for decades. Obama gave a wonderfully Russellian defense of Warren on Thursday at a press conference. Americans, he said, need to "come together" even when they disagree on social issues. "That dialogue is part of what my campaign is all about," he said. Russell would often use the same tactic to deflect criticism of his civil rights record. It was a distraction, Russell said, from the important business of the day uniting all Americans. Obama also said today that he is a "fierce advocate for equality" for gays, which is -- given his opposition to equal marriage rights -- simply a lie. It recalls the time Russell said, "I'm as interested in the Negro people of my state as anyone in the Senate. I love them."
Another, maybe more cliche, parallel is Kennedy. Had I been alive in the early 60s and heard JFK refer to himself as a "fierce advocate for equality" for blacks, I'd have grabbed the Molotov cocktail, and gone straight H. Rap Brown. Part of me shrinks at calling the man a bigot, but on its face, I think John is right. The case against gay marriage, is for my money, a bigot's case. The appeal to history is false, in the first, for the reason that all appeals to history are false. For thousands of years the dominant form of government in the world was a dictatorship--and then we "redefined government" to make democracy. Was that wrong? But more than that it's false on the the actual facts--historically, marriage has not always been one man, one woman. It's been one man and fifty women. It's been one man and--what we would consider today--one child. One man and five children. One woman and five men. And so on...
No, the objection here is to gays, in particular, which brings me to Obama and Warren. I want to be absolutely clear here. Obama hasn't betrayed anything or anyone. On this issue, he is what I thought he was. One of the first blog posts ever wrote noted the amazing hypocrisy in Obama lecturing black people on homophobia, while himself, holding a position on arguably the most important civil rights issue of our time, which was essentially bigoted. It's my job to say things like that, to, at once, not just carp, but still not simply fall in line.
'Bama's job, meanwhile, is to be a politician. I don't say that derisively or sarcastically, but literally. He has to exist in a world where Rev. Wright's sermons are kyrptonite, but a man who compares gay sex to incest, who lies about the nature and history of marriage is political capitol. Let's not be confused--Rick Warren rolls with a crew that didn't simply block gay marriage in Cali, but is now actively attempting to destroy marriages. Forgive me, I find it hard to be rational while watching men of the cloth cynically claim the abstract mantle of family values, while attempting to erase actual families. How in the world are these people not evil?
Sorry, I was supposed to be getting to the diplomatic part. The diplomatic part is this: Barack is the president of the United States. He has all sorts of people pressuring them. His job is to respond to those pressures in such a way as to not break the consensus he needs to get things done, and to expand the Democratic brand in the American mind. So when people make the pragmatic arguments, it's not that I think they're wrong. They are, in fact, totally right.
But Obama's job, isn't my job. I just don't think it's my role to make him as comfortable as possible. This isn't about betraying progressives, it isn't about lefties being "depressed," it isn't about a Democratic civil war, and it doesn't need to be squished into a seven minute segment on Hardball. Let's be honest here--Barack Obama has, so far, been exactly what we expected. Exactly. Let us acknowledge that. But let's not use that as an excuse to not our job, which is as I see it, to say, "Mr. President. Now, do more."