Monday, December 22, 2008


Brilliant. There's no other word for Barack Obama's choice of Rick Warren to deliver the traditional religious rant at next month's inauguration. It works on so many levels, I wish Machiavelli were here to chronicle a true Prince.

Apparently you can't have an inauguration without an invocation, no matter what the First Amendment says. That being the case, Obama knew exactly what he was doing when he selected Warren over "a dignified old hypocrite with no factional allegiances," as Christopher Hitchens wrote in Slate, presumably somebody of the Billy Graham stripe. Warren will not win the Democrats any votes in primitive backwaters like Kansas, but he will cancel out even more vicious bigots like Fred Phelps (think of him as Phelps with a quasi-human face). He will also subtly convey that, like the Republican Party, American Protestantism has been hijacked by end-time extremists and warped ideologues. That may be unfair, but it's going to take a lot of disproving. And Warren, with a record of dehumanizing Jews and Mormons as well as gays, is not at all interested in disproving it.

In addition, the elevation of Warren has driven a wedge between the pastor and his sheep, who are bleating all over the Christian websites that Rick is palling around with Antichrist. There was never any chance he wouldn't. When they met last summer, Senator Obama must have homed in on Rev. Warren's defining characteristic, vanity. (I know, I would have said gluttony, too. That's why I'm not about to become president. A fat guy who thinks he's disguising his superfluous chins with a shitty goatee might as well be cast as Vanity in a production of The Seven Deadly Sins.) It's hard to refuse on principle when visions of a national stage and lucrative book sales are dancing in your head. If you're an opportunist like Warren, it's impossible. It would be like turning down Oprah.

There may also be an element of personal revenge-taking here, though I wouldn't presume to read Obama's mind. Of course, there have been outraged responses from gay supporters of Obama, but where are they going to take their anger? I can't see David Geffen holding fund-raisers for Schwarzenegger, much less Sarah Palin. So Barney Frank is unhappy (as a gay man, interestingly, not as a Jew.) What is he going to do, quit the party and form a power bloc with Bernie Sanders? The Barney-and-Bernie Party? Even if they invite Joe Lieberman, they still need seven for a minyan. Obama is treating gays the way the Democratic Party has treated blacks for forty years, taking them for granted while doing as little as possible to earn their support. But maybe it isn't personal at all, just what Solozzo in The Godfather would call "una cosa di business."

Would I rather see a latter-day William Sloane Coffin or Daniel Berrigan at the lectern? Well, yes, it would be exhilirating for five minutes, but as an atheist I've fought all my life against being seduced by the "cool" clergy who say all the right things but expect you to show up, sooner or later, at their church. At the end of the day, they don't stand with us -- look what happened to Robert Drinan when the Church yanked the string. And we don't need them and their Iron Age superstitions. If the measure of a man is the enemies he makes, Barack Hussein Obama is already twenty feet tall. I'm content to have him keep this particular enemy close. I also intend no insult by invoking Machiavelli. The world is a dangerous place, made infinitely more dangerous by the antics of the Cheney-Bush regime. We need someone as brainy and devious, maybe even as ruthless, as Cesare Borgia.

I can wait until January 21.

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