Thursday, December 18, 2008

Rick Warren and Caroline Kennedy

The other day I broke down and set up a feed reader. Now, I'm furious with myself for not having done so months and months ago. I already feel so much more on top of a lot of the national voices that I used to read with a lot more frequency when I wasn't so preoccupied with local issues.

Hopefully this will allow me to weigh in on the national minutia with more frequency as well.

There are two arguments preoccupying a lot of lefty bloggers right now.

The first flash point has been Caroline Kennedy, who confirmed her interest in replacing Hillary Clinton in the Senate on Monday. There are seemingly two sides to this one.

There are those that are really angry about this, like Jane Hamsher, who's post here seemed to be a rallying point early on. Her argument was valid because it focused on a condemnation of dynastic entitlement in politics in a more general sense.

Yet as things developed, the front against Caroline Kennedy has become increasingly shrill. Hamsher again:

I thought at least she's get out before the cameras and start making her case to the public before she announced her intentions, because simply lobbying your well-connected buddies just oozes an outrageous sense of entitlement and insufferable pomposity.

I guess she'll take entitlement for a thousand, Alex.

And Markos has published several pieces over the last ten days voicing his strong opposition.

The case for Caroline Kennedy is pretty straightforward.

1. Senators don't really do a whole lot of constituent services.
2. She's been an advocate for progressive causes for her whole life, though less publicly.
3. She'd have immediate gravity in the national discourse.

Point three is especially appealing to me. Though things are going pretty good for left these days, I remember a time when the Democrats lacked a national voice capable of taking an unpopular stand without fear of political consequences. I remember when Hillary Clinton supported the Iraq war, at least in part because of her national ambitions. Really, Democrats lacked a strong firewall against the Republican message machine throughout the first Bush term. Caroline Kennedy would have to take a lot of unpopular stands before she became electorally vulnerable in New York. So she might be someone that could come in handy down the road when things aren't so peachy.

I'm still pretty sympathetic toward people arguing to do away with executive appointments like this all together. But what I don't understand is why the prospect of the Kennedy appointment drew out all the fire on this. Nobody was making much fuss about Jesse Jackson Jr. being mentioned as a potential replacement for Obama's seat. How many Senators wouldn't be where they are without mommy or daddy's last name? Even most that were not directly related to a former big name politician were certainly born into a privileged social network.

Matt Yglesias has a part of it right:

[S]ome of the hostility to dynasticism stems from a sort of misguided desire to pretend that electoral outcomes are this incredibly rational process. So if we all point at Caroline Kennedy and say she’s only under serious consideration because of her name, then maybe if we all object loudly enough to this it’ll turn out that the other 99 Senators are there because they’ve passed a set of rigorous credentialing examinations or something. But of course that’s not how things work at all. The whole business of electioneering is full of irrationality and tradition all the way from top to bottom.


The other big controversy bubbling right now involves Obama's decision to invite homophobic fundy pastor Rick Warren to deliver prayer at his inauguration. This decision has really invited the ire of lefty bloggers, and the ensuing controversy has become a top story at TPM.

Warren is a jerk, there's no doubt about that. He backed prop 8, he regularly equates abortion to he Holocaust and regularly equates homosexuality to bestiality, etc.

But I can't say I'm really all that pissed off that he's going to be at the inauguration. Warren is the Oprah of the religious right. This largely symbolic gesture means little in terms of substantive LGBT issues but builds a little bit of political capital with fundamentalists that might be reasonable when it comes to working with us on matters of poverty and the environment.

The other point here is that a lot of the anger over the Warren invitation would never have been so virulent had prop 8 failed. The fact that this has generated such controversy speaks volumes about the momentum behind the LGBT rights movement right now. During the Bush years, our President and members of his Party met with leaders far more reactionary than Warren with such regularity that people came to accept the reactionary position as mainstream. Now, the mere appearance of an opponent of LGBT rights in Washington is a dominant news story. That's a good thing.

Besides, Obama won an election based on a commitment to find a new way to do discourse in Washington. The old way might have been to just shut out everyone who disagrees with the LGBT cause. Republicans did this for years and those angrily advocating for Warren's banishment from the inauguration seem to be merely retaliating.

Al Giordano has an excellent post up about the failure of the tactics of identity politics related to this matter.

But I think he leaves out an important addendum:

I believe that my position for full and equal civil rights for LGBT individuals and couples is the right one and so I believe that if we engage in a debate about the issue with opponents of civil rights, we'll win.

(Of course there's a lot more to say about the political strategy behind the decision to invite Warren to speak. There has to be something useful about a President appearing bipartisan by angering his base on a matter of symbolism but that's a different discussion.)


It's fascinating to examine these two issues together because they're really quite similar. Both are similarly dividing progressive bloggers along familiar fault lines of ideological purity. I believe the major voices out there are generally capable of engaging in a discourse on the matter and the thing I love about blogging is that it allows the proliferation of all sorts of different perspectives. However, it isn't all that difficult to anticipate the magnification of these kinds of divisions over time.

Pretty much everyone in the progressive blogsphere supports the Employee Free Choice Act, there only appears to be some effort to organize online efforts to pressure wishy-washy Democrats like Blanche Lincoln, who appears more concerned with maintaining the friendship of WalMart executives in advance of her 2010 reelection campaign than with workers' rights.

People angry over Caroline Kennedy and Rick Warren are not further to the left than those that don't see legitimate battlefields on these issues, but I can envision these kinds of fault lines hardening for those that more consistently assume a fighting stance on every pop culture issue where there might be a political position to take.


jeffrey said...

I'll try to brief so as not to get too shrill.

You write,
"I remember a time when the Democrats lacked a national voice capable of taking an unpopular stand without fear of political consequences. I remember when Hillary Clinton supported the Iraq war, at least in part because of her national ambitions."

That's an easy time to remember since we're still... you know... living in it.

Inviting Rick Warren to the inauguration is a tacit endorsement of hatred. Period.

We've been through the era of disguising capitulation as "opening a dialogue" too many times to pretend the same bullshit again.

Dammit that WAS shrill. Oh well. Fuck Rick Warren

E said...

I just don't believe that interacting with something you don't like is a tacit endorsement of that thing.

I think Rick Warren is a HUGE d-bag just as most of the readers of this blog do, but I don't what good it does to totally disengage the entire swath of the nation that he speaks for.

jeffrey said...

Well if I thought interacting with things I don't like is always a tacit endorsement of those things, I wouldn't blog.

But there are ways to "engage" that don't involve big political pats on the back like this.

It would be different if Obama were a more committed advocate for gay rights, then you could say he was being cordial to an ideological opponent. But as long as Obama's rhetoric remains as mincing and semi-conciliatory as it has been on gay marriage, for example, a move like this looks weak rather than "engaging."

Again... maybe I'm getting old or something, but I've just been watching this game for too long to expect it to be any different.

jeffrey said...

Frankly, though, I'm ready for Obama to just freaking get inaugurated already. That way I can start complaining about all the actual failures instead of worrying about the potential ones.

E said...

Jeffrey, I think that's about right. We're all just counting the damn days.