Why Obama Chose Rick Warren

Barack Obama's selection of Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural ceremony may seem like a nice overture - a reassuring gesture - to the middle and the Right, but it is stirring up a great deal of grief on the Left.

This is exactly what Obama intends.

Let's back up for a moment: President Clinton went into office in 1993 and quickly alienated the public, resulting in an opposition Congress for the next 6 years.  Clinton's later triangulation conceptually legitimated the policies of Republicans, but it put public approval (and some political capitabl) back behind Clinton.

But Barack Obama faces a much different situation.  He will walk into office with a very solid majority Democratic Senate and House, and with overwhelming public favor.  Obama does not have to seek the best deal he can get out of a Republican agenda; he does not have to moderate his policy agenda for a Republican Congress.  Obama can set his own agenda....as long as he has the public on his side.

Clinton faced an opposition Congress, so he had to moderate on policy.  Obama faces a friendly Congress, so he has to moderate on rhetoric.

I'm not sure why this rhetorical moderation is still a surprise to anybody.  Obama has been doing this for awhile: he praised Reagan, recognized legitimate grievances of opponents of affirmative action, affirmed the excesses of New Deal/Great Society liberalism.  But while each of those set aflutter the hearts of independents, moderates and the Right, none of them involved actual policy changes. 

Most people have only a very superficial intersection with politics, so trivial gestures - like inviting an evangelical preacher to deliver the invocation for a Democratic President - are powerful.  They send the signal to a low-information public that Obama is one of them, sympathetic to them, respectful of them...without actually requiring substantive political concessions of the Obama administration.  And if the noisy Left cries foul at Obama's un-progressive rhetoric...well, so much the better for the substantive progressive agenda.

Rhetorically moderate, politically Left.  Expect to see that over and over again from President Obama.

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Spot On!

Probably the most accurate assessment of BHO and his agenda to date.  The talking heads should take note!  Perhaps we will here this very sentiment over the next few days from the various media outlets. 


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Probably the most accurate assessment of BHO and his agenda to date.   

For instance, Chris Bowers of Open Left (one of the three "Good Lefty Blogs" recommended by The Next Right  homepage)  beat John Henke in posting on this theory in relation to the Rick Warren outrage.  I found Bower's commentary susbatnsive and Henke, for me, adds nothing new.


There is a widespread theory that Obama is using symbolic gestures, such as having Rick Warren as a featured speaker at the inauguration the "symbolism" of keeping Robert Gates as Sectary of Defense, in order to provide himself political cover for passing left-wing legislation. So, conservatives get symbols, such as the person managing the largest federal department of all, but progressives will get policy. According to this theory, progressives who are upset with Obama over one thing or another are childishly upset over symbols, and ignoring the progressive reality of the governing to come.

Bowers goes on to site an example of Rahm Emanuel to argue against this theory:

This might be an isolated incident, and play out differently over the next few years, but it throws a lot of cold water on the notion that conservatives are only getting symbols, while progressives will get legislation. 


The problem for progressives

Is that we've seen the centrist symbols, but have no guarantee of leftward policy. Progressives are being told to hold their breath, but I think we have good reason to be highly skeptical of the Democratic leadership.

bowers is wrong.

Rahm has been moved out of a policy position into a MUCH more effective role as Chief of Staff.

The fact that Rahm is a corporatist shmoo has nothing to do with what Obama wants to do...

except that whatever Obama wants to do, It'sa gonna be big!

Emanuel confirms this theory

The appointment of Rahm Emanuel supports this theory.   Obama didn't hire his ideology, he hired his savvy.  He'll put that to work advancing Obama's agenda, not Emanuel's.  Hiring a bareknuckles brawler suggests Obama will be looking to get every advantage he can for his agenda.  Again, Obama will handle the rhetorical gestures  himself and surround himself with the people who can use those gestures as cover to implement the policy agenda.


Very well put. It's sad to see folks on the left complaining about Obama's Cabinet choices, especially Salazar. They're definitely exhibiting the blind spots that during the campaign were somewhat lost in the enthusiasm.

For me, I voted for him because I have faith in him, so at the very least I'm going to give him a chance to govern before crying foul. =)

they're keeping his feet to the fire.

which is a good thing. the right should do the same.

I'm satisified with Treasury Sec, and that's the only one that matters right now.

Why always the wolf in sheeps clothing?

Even Newt is being gracious. Maybe you should consider it. magnanimousness

I said nothing about a wolf

He's being smart about how he presents himself and how he uses rhetoric to advance his policy.  That's smart.  I was just explaining the distinction, the dynamics and how one can be used to move the other.

Rhetorically Moderate, Politically Left.

should read "Rhetorically Moderate, Politically Moderate."  Lefties like me have know Obama is a moderate for a long time.  I really don't get why so many on the right can't acknowledge this. He is no Chris Dodd/Barney Frank on social issues and may be right of Hagel on some defense issues. I guess painting him as "politically left" helps keep the troops in line and the donors onboard, but a cartoon is still a cartoon.

And in the spirit of magnanimity, thank you for The Next Right and the mostly thoughtful content on the site. God Bless Y'all.

We don't acknowledge it...

because it's simply not true.

Look, the guy has one of the furthest-left voting records in the entire Senate over his (admittedly brief) tenure.  His articulated positions on a whole raft of issues are down-the-line liberal orthodoxy.  He's a Keynesian voluptuary to a degree that Keynes himself would find unseemly; a devotee of the cult of coercive egalitarianism the likes of which has bona fide socialists cheering from the pews; a mossback of standard-issue, OD green lefty nostrums such as the moral authority of the United Nations and the looming catastrophe of anthropogenic climate change; an adherent of the lawless, anti-intellectual strain of legal theory known as "living constitutionalism"; and, behind the phony I-understand-your-point-of-view, what's-good-for-Chicago-may-not-be-good-for-Cheyenne posturing, a standard-bearer for we-know-what's-best-for-you urban left cultural chauvinism.

All of this is well-documented.  Discovering it requires nothing more than examining the publicly-available information about the guy: reading his books, going over his policy agenda, listening to what he says, and looking at what he's actually done.

If pretending that he's actually a political moderate makes the ideological betrayal easier to bear when he --being a politician -- inevitably subordinates ideology to ambition, well, hey.  Whatever you and your therapist think is best, man.  Self-delusion isn't my cup of tea, but to each his own.  As long as you're being gripped by the spirit of magnaminity, though, please don't piss on my head and tell me it's raining.  The cleaning bill is a bitch.


it is quite practical to genuflect to the authority of the UN

just as socialism is quite practical. I cede neither moral authority. They both stand on pragmatic results.

As I recall, many Conservatives would like a living constitution in which Christians were allowed to enforce their ideas on the rest of us. How much of the south is DRY?

UM, we do know what's best for you. yes, you may have our tax dollars. if you'd rather be a third world state, just secede. (unless you're tennessee. then please give us oak ridge first).

I'm quite happy to see the end of ideology. wish you were the same, bro.

Which "pragmatic results" are those?

The "pragmatic results" of socialism include tens of millions of dead in gulags and purges, and a unbroken century-long record of misery and privation everywhere it has been introduced. The "pragmatic results" of the United Nations include, among other things, corruption, rape scandals, and a "Commission on Human Rights" that routinely excoriates Western democracies for marginal imperfections while turning a blind eye to appalling abuses occurring in the home states of Commission members.

Yes, there are some conservatives who argue that the Constitution permits government dissemination and imposition of Judeo-Christian dogma.  Similarly, there are some liberals who argue that the Constitution permits government dissemination and imposition of Gaia-worship (in the guise of "environmentalism").  Destructive, authoritarian idiocy knows no party affiliation.

No, you don't know what's best for me.  I don't want your tax dollars.  I'd be delighted to secede, and I'm pretty sure that on its current trajectory the United States will be approaching third-world status long, long before Centerfiretopia -- how long 'til the bill comes due on Boomer entitlements?


The bill's already due on that Iraq war that you forgot to pay

for. Don't look at me, I didn't vote for the irresponsible, local or national [which is why in the election before last, I voted Republican].

I believe you are talking about Communism. I'll cite you Norway, Israel's kibbutzim, and the Netherlands. They're all working socialist communities. Though I'm sure you'd like moshavs better.

The pragmatic results of Socialism include not turning into a Marxist state, and being able to base our economy on consumption, along with perceptably fewer riots and assassinations of leaders (see anarchist viewpoint, currently held by Islamic terrorists, among others). Henry Ford knew this well. He voluntarily paid workers almost twice the going rate.

I was not arguing for the UN -- I was arguing the practicality of genuflecting toward it, and then using veto power to kill anything we don't like (i.e. bans on handguns). In practice, it allows the rest of the world to feel more included. Plus, there's the general utility of being able to softly feel out where working relationships exist between other countries, and coming to more of a consensus on rogue states and regions.

Am I saying we should really submit to UN control? no way in hell.

Where do you live, sir? How much of your state's money comes from the US gov't? (my roads are paid for by Philly, primarily. we don't need too much pork, murtha notwithstanding)

Newt sometimes overcompensates

There's a pretty clear line between civility and getting co-opted. I prefer the opposition party stay on the other side of the line.

The fact that BHO is letting Rick Warren play the 21st Century version of Billy Graham is irrelevant to his policy agenda.  Let's assume Obama is a nice guy with good intentions.

Does that mean we overlook his hack political allies, his out of focus world view and his poor policy choices?  I prefer not to play that nice. 


Of course Obama's agenda is going to be on the 'left', he's a democrat with a firm democratic majority in congress. It's a nice overture to the right, even if not substantive on the policy front. And he really seems to be going for the 'team of rivals' thing.

I guess, and really noone really knows, that he really is going down the middle as much as anyone can in a political duopoly. That's an easy take on the situation.

My second take , is basically agreeing with the post. He's calming the superficial dissent (not igniting the culture wars) to really make some big changes. I'm not sure how I feel about that. Changes need to take place, but big government change is messy and weird.  In some part, I actually trust him to do it, but the smart person in me guesses that few people can artifully shape large systems well. It's a very difficult thing to do.


All is calm now because the election is over, and the focus is on the Big3 and Wall St. But give it 6 months and I bet there be plenty to discuss.

few computers can artfully shape large systems as well

as we are finding out.

hedge funds counted on computers to do their buying and selling, and now they don't even know what they own! (and it would take six months to figure it out)

Obama is learning from our mistakes

Let's be honest.  Many of our leaders, including those in the White House, projected an extremist image to mollify the base but actually governed from the center or left.  End result was alianation of the moderates which drove their votes to the Dems and, over time, disillusionment of the base which undercut our grassroots efforts.  Obama is doing the exact opposite.  He is projecting a moderate image which will hold their votes and governing from the left which will, over time, reassure the Democratic base.  We need to counter by pointing out the inconsistencies between his words and his deeds. 

Obama is a conservative

In fact, most minority populations tend to be rather conservative.

In this case, he's a conservative Democrat.  The Democrats have a lot of fruitcakes as their primary mouthpieces, but the foot-soldiers aren't nearly so fruity. 

Very well said Jon

I've been worried about this for a while, but you put it in much clearer terms than I could.  I used to point out that Obama could be the mirror image of Reagan.  Reagan governed from the right but won over independents through sunny, optimistic, moderate rhetoric.  Some conservative mistook that success as governing conservatively ensures supermajorities.  That's not true.  But it doesn't foreclose them either.  Many people vote and say "I approve" without thinking on a political spectrum.

The one point of contrary data we have is his cabinet choices.  While not exactly center-right, they are much more Clintonian center-left than Nader/Ayers far left.  From education to defense to energy, these are mostly cabinet members that Kossites would love to beat in a primary.  So while I still expect the Big Agenda to be pretty leftist, the little things are likely to be more center-left.  For example, I suspect the DC voucher program will not be canceled.

kozzacks like me were expecting a center-left

we ain't too steamed yet -- in fact, I kind of like his choices (so long as Gates leaves after Iraq, which appears likely. gates is a big guy, doesn't need any more medals).

Now, real leftists might be upset, but I don't think most on kos are real leftists.

Obama attended an evangelical church.

so yeah, he is one of you. meh. not my style but who the hell cares what I think? nor should you.

hey now

There is (a) a small, oppressed population of progressive evangelicals, and (b) a difference, on the level of individuals, between "Republican" and "evangelical Christian".

I'll grant that distinction vanishes at the party and policy level, but since this is a place of individuals, let's not use an overbroad brush.

oh, I'm not. I have my own philosophical critiques

of evangelism as a religious philosophy. They stem from my Jewish religion.

As I said, I may not care for it, but that doesn't mean I'm going to snear at you for liking it.

Henke Gets it Exactly Right

I think conservatives are consistently underestimate how smart a politician Obama is.  The Warren pick is a masterstroke, and ticks off all those obnoxious left-wing groups that are anathema to the vast majority of America.   A lot of moderate evangelicals are going to have warm feeling toward Obama as a result of this move.

Whatever you think of Obama's policy experience, there's no question that he's a political virtuoso.  He's a master of policial symbolism.  And the sad part is, there is no Republican who is even close to him at the moment.   Do you think a hack like Mike Duncan is going to lay a glove on this guy? Not a chance.

Joseph Lowery pick?

A lot of moderate evangelicals are going to have warm feeling toward Obama as a result of this move.

While Rick Warren gives the invocation,  Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader, friend of GLBT community and a Bush war critic is is selected to give the closing benediction. Link

Mixed signals... not really optimal, isn't it?


see what pastordan at streetprophets has to say. ;-)

mixed signals?

or just acknowledging that there are different people in this country? not everyone voted for him, not everyone voted against him. i dont get why everyone is so confused....he promised he would reach out to all people and he is. the country is very divided now, and i think its great of him to invite people with different views to participate. whatever our differences, we're all Americans and while I don't agree with all the views of either pastor, when does anybody find  one person they agree with 100% of the time?

did you guys read the story about how Obama called all those GOP congressman last week? I was shocked to learn this is the first time an incoming president has done that since Reagan. That is how it's supposed to be. He is a democrat with a large majority in congress and may make governing decisions you disagree with, but surely inviting a pastor that would upset the far left to his inauguration is not worth getting worked up about.


Mixed Signals = Finesse

I doubt that Obama is getting Rick Warren simply for "the evangelicals" thinking "ooh, if Warren spoke at his inaguration, he's a-OK by me". That's not realistic, give us some credit, the ones of us that change our minds aren't so easily fooled. What would impress moderate evangelicals? Sticking with Warren, even though the liberals of his party are in arms over the choice. That's more worthy of respect than having a Purpose-Driven Inaguration.