Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Fruits of Reaching Out

Four score minus sixty-nine days ago, Barack Obama opened his presidency with an invocation prayer delivered by Rick Warren, the social-climbing and camera-loving preacher famous for an insipid book outlining an easy-bake, feel-good form of Christianity. Those who supported Obama's gesture portrayed it as a tour de force of savvy communications, outreach, and bridge-building:

Obama understands the importance of focusing on commonly shared goals and values, in the process reaching out to unconventional allies to frame issues in a way that connect to the worldviews of hard to reach audiences. The latest example is the choice of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at Obama's inauguration.
To be clear, the "unconventional allies" in question are American Christianists and American liberals. So, eleven days on, what are the fruits of this accommodation?

The Christianists are thoroughly unmoved judging from the unhinged Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America, a document purporting to originate from few years into the Obama presidency, when every imaginable far-right paranoid fantasy has come to pass. Though it runs to 16 pages, it never gets around to acknowledging the bridge-building symbolism of Obama's inclusion of pastor Warren, notwithstanding Warren's solidly anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-evolution bona fides.

What about those "commonly shared goals and values" such as poverty, AIDS, and climate change? The letter never touches on AIDS, mentions the word poverty only as a symptom of the Democrats' ruinous misrule (page 10, " ... cycles of poverty and violence in which generations had been trapped ..."), and cites climate change only to include it on a list of unspeakable horrors to which the far right has been subjected by 2012:
...the agenda of the homosexual activists, the agenda of the environmental activists, the agenda of the National Education Association, the agenda of the global-warming activists, the agenda of the abortion-rights activists, the agenda of the gun-control activists, the agenda of the euthanasia supporters, the agenda of the one-world government pacifists ... [page 15; emphasis mine]
And Obama's inclusion of Warren, even when combined with further attempts at outreach, got him exactly zero votes in the House for his economic stimulus bill.

It's not that outreach is folly. It is not. It is worthwhile to do what can be done to chip away at longstanding hostilities and seize on attainable agreements. But when it comes to Christianists and liberals in America, the two sides are enemies for non-trivial reasons, and that, too, is worth facing squarely. "Connecting with the worldviews of hard to reach audiences" sometimes entails telling them they lost the election and did so for good reason.

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