'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pattern and Practice 

One of these days, I will get around to writing a film review of Oshima's Violence at Noon, a film that I was fortunate enough to see at the Pacific Film Archive recently. Truly, they don't make them like they used to.

Instead, there are some residual themes that must be addressed in relation to Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Curiously, people still tend to perceive Obama's conduct in isolation, as if this sort of decision is an aberration. It is not.

Let's travel in the time machine back to late 2007 and early 2008. Obama was being subjected to a smear campaign by right wingers and Clinton supporters to the effect that he was a closet Muslim. He responded in a quite calculating way, to the effect that he most certainly was not, he was a Christian. Despite numerous opportunities, he consistently refused to speak favorably on behalf of American Muslims. He refused to challenge the implicit assumption of the smear that there is something illegitimate about being Muslim. Nor did his staff. Finally, in October, Colin Powell did so.

Later, during the summer, Obama gave a highly publicized speech criticizing African American men for their poor performance of their parental responsibilities. Despite the obvious fact that there are fathers of all races that fulfill their parental obligations in a desultory manner, Obama declined to make similar speeches on the same subject in relation to them. He therefore reinforced the specious notion that dysfunctional family life in the US is uniquely within the province of the African American community.

Now, we see Obama selecting Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration based upon the bizarre justification that he is practicing the politics of inclusion, despite the obvious irony that Warren expressly prohibits gays and lesbians from becoming members of his church. It turns out, however, that Obama parcels out such opportunities carefully. For example, Obama has refused to have his picture taken with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom after Newsom had ordered the clerk to perform gay marriages.

As Newsom said earlier this year:

One of the three Democrats you mentioned as presidential candidates, as God is my witness, will not be photographed with me, will not be in the same room with me, Newsom told Reuters, even though I've done fundraisers for that particular person - not once, but twice - because of this issue.

But it's different with homophobes, Obama is quite willling to publicly associate himself and his political movement with them. And, Warren is not the first. In late 2007, Obama toured South Carolina with gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. McClurkin is a self-proclaimed ex-gay who counsels gays on how to become straight. Upon being confronted with McClurkin's offensive views, the Obama campaign said that McClurkin would not speak to this offensive subject, but, during the last concert, he said that I tell you that God delivered me from homosexuality.

And, yes, you guessed it, the Obama campaign stressed his vision, the big tent, to join together, build on common ground, and engage in a civil dialogue even when we disagree, when challenged. But, even if we accept this absurdity, there was no dialogue in South Carolina, as there will be none on January 20th, just McClurkin telling the audience that God had saved him from homosexuality, just as Warren is frolicking on the airwaves, celebrating his new found respectability.

Based upon these episodes, one can't avoid the question, is Obama an evangelical himself? We can't dismiss the possibility. We can, however, say with confidence that Obama is afflicted with an ingrained tendency to cater to evangelicals without concern as to how it is perceived by others. He is unwilling to challenge their core assumptions about gays, lesbians, Muslims, and, in some instances, African American men, no matter how ridiculous and offensive. Within a broader context, he is incapable of challenging the stereotypes by which such people are often judged. Much better to manipulate them to one's personal political advantage.

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