Obama Shaking Hands with Warren While Winking at Gays?

Okay, okay, okay….I can recite all the talking points.

I know that President Obama is politically progressive even as he is politically calculating. I understand that he wants to model a spirit of unity and common purpose by embracing those with whom he disagrees. And I get that he wants to bring together persons from all sides of the ideological spectrum in order to raise America from the nadir of Bush/Cheney political discourse. Yet all the evidence of the president-elect’s selection of Rick Warren to offer the invocation at the presidential inauguration leans more toward shrewd cost-benefit calculation than any attempt to be a progressive coalition builder.

To be sure, there are plenty of prominent evangelical pastors from which Obama could have chosen who were not on the very front lines supporting Proposition 8. And the president-elect is smart enough to know how this choice would be perceived as both ill-timed and insensitive. This is why I believe there is something else going on here besides representing all sides. Obama’s choice of Warren smells of the worst sort of political stratagem plucked directly from his fascination with Ronald Reagan: a politics of minority sacrifice toward majority consolidation.

Remember, it was Ronald Reagan who announced his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the place where three civil rights workers James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered. By doing so, he attracted disaffected white southerners by signaling the era of civil rights would meet its death. And it was Ronald Reagan who reduced the concerns of America’s poor to a caricatured image of a hyper-racialized welfare queen. This allowed him to appeal to the bourgeoning suburban class while scapegoating government programs that assist the poor for the eradication of the industrial economy.

You see, Ronald Reagan understood that offending a perceived powerless political bloc paled in comparison to galvanizing majority sentiments. Thus, with seemingly vacuous symbolic gestures that resonated among particular yet powerful communities, he sacrificed the bruised feelings of the few in order to curry favor with the many.

Is this what we are witnessing from Obama? By helping this unabashed homophobe become America’s next Billy Graham it appears that Obama is revealing his own southern strategy with a gendered twist. Is he forfeiting the feelings of the GLBT community in order to appease the religious sensibilities of evangelical Americans residing along America’s southern crest? Is he sending a symbolic telegraph to religious conservatives, “I’m with you on blocking gay marriage,” with the understanding that the millions of gays and lesbians who supported him have little to no other political option? It seems that the president-elect is trying to be on the political “down low”—stand next to Rick Warren in public while winking at the GLBT community behind his evangelical back.

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