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Please join me in this humble rant

About a week ago, in a restless night of troubled sleep, I had a dream that I’d like to tell you about. Comfy?

In this dream, Francis Heaney was upset because he kept being quoted in magazine articles and on blogs as an example of a liberal who was disillusioned with Barack Obama because the Cabinet was shaping up as moderate-bipartisan. I was trying to reassure him and his Brooklyn hipster friends that it was perfectly okay that the mainstream press was erroneously reporting that Left Blogovia was bitter at Barack Obama’s sensible moderate stances, because it made Our Next President’s progressive policies appear to be moderate, and thus more likely to become the actual policies of the actual government.

The conversation didn’t go well. Mostly, Francis was on about how he knew that President-Elect Obama was putting together a pretty good cabinet, and hadn’t betrayed the Left at all, and was just upset at being misquoted, or having his words twisted anyway, which made him look like an idiot. He was focused on the dishonesty of it, and how he was being portrayed as wild-eyed and ignorant, and he didn’t see why all of that was perfectly all right because it had some theoretical marginal modicum of rhetorical use for the Party. Meanwhile, one of his hipster friends was arguing that Barack Obama really had abandoned the progressive netroots, and that she really was upset about it, and that my point about how Left Blogovia wasn’t really upset was totally wrong, and also my point about how it would help get progressive policies in place was totally wrong, because the appointments showed that Our Next President wasn’t really interested in progressive policies. And I kept trying to make my point to each of them, or rather to both of them, which wasn’t working, because when I made a particularly good point about the Cabinet’s progressive cred, Francis dismissed it, saying he knew all of that and it didn’t mean that the press should lie about him, and when I made a particularly good point about how even if it sucked for him it built up this useful-but-phony idea of Left Blogovia for the White House-to-come to triangulate against, his hipster friend objected to being called phony and argued against the progressive cred of the appointees.

I should probably add that Francis was wearing a dark blue suit, or maybe a silk shirt in a solid dark blue; something totally outside his rather famous fashion sense, anyway. And his friend was a young woman with short brown hair and no visible tattoos or piercings, making her equally improbable as a Brooklyn hipster, I suppose. It was a dream, you know? And I don’t think I’ve seen Francis face-to-face in twenty years.

Anyway, over the last couple of days, in real life, I’ve been musing about this idea, which is that Left Blogovia, if we really want to help Barack Obama enact progressive policies whilst looking like a centrist, has to do its part by screaming and yelling about how we’ve been betrayed, and how all of our people are getting shafted, and where are the progressives in the cabinet? The problem with all of that is that much of Left Blogovia is made up of people who are neither incredibly stupid nor aggressively dishonest. I’m not saying they’re a race of philosopher-kings, but frankly, I think the idea of working the ref seems a little distasteful to most of them. They pride themselves on knowledge and insight. Like Francis (in my dream), they would rather not look like idiots, and frankly none of them seem to have the kind of identification with the Party or loyalty to it to take one for the team. Nor is that sort of thing shown itself to be an effective way of getting or keeping a Left Blogovian readership. I mean, yes, you can attract readers with blistering (or snarky) attacks on the DNC or Hillary Clinton or Harry Reid, but (a) attacks on Barack Obama from the left haven’t been a real advantage so far, and (2) stupid made-up craziness hasn’t been a real advantage so far.

So there’s kind of a strategic problem, I’m thinking. And then Barack Obama invited Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Now there really is something for Left Blogovia to get outraged about. No dishonesty needs to be involved, nor do we have to pretend that something is important when it isn’t important. Yes, this invitation is of only symbolic importance, but it is of major symbolic importance, and some of the folks in Left Blogovia are particularly good at expressing the ways that symbols (like who is asked to speak for the country at what times) have real consequences in the lives of real people. And others are just really good at sifting through the record to find abhorrent comments by people who like to make abhorrent comments. And others who are just really good at snark. Well done, Barack Obama! You successfully pissed off Left Blogovia, realio trulio pissed ’em off! Well done, you big jerk!

Er, except, oh shit, it doesn’t work if I say well done. And really, it only works if we really do express our anger—and please understand that I really am angry about this, and for all of that dream conversation I sure wish he hadn’t invited that man to speak at our inauguration. The man has said horrible things about some of my favorite people in the world, and deliberately intended to deprive my countrymen (and incidentally, my friends) of their rights. He has made bizarre, violent and seemingly ignorant comments about our foreign relations. He has lied, again and again, about matters of public policy. He has supported intolerance and hate. He is bad, bad, bad, and I am seriously outraged that he will be representing America at the inauguration of Our Next President, and that the aforesaid inauguration will happen under his benefice.

Now, you knew all that stuff, Gentle Reader, I’m sure. But here’s my point: you should be saying it. If this is a careful political maneuver by Barack Obama, it works only if the people who are outraged by it on the Left say so, get out of the chat rooms and into the streets, and make it clear that Barack Obama is far, far, far from the Left on many important issues we hold dear. If it is not a careful political maneuver, but a careless misjudgment of Rick Warren, it is even more important that those of us who are outraged declare our outrage, and do so in the strongest terms we can.

My feeling, particularly between the triumph in November and the Inauguration in January, is that on the whole we should give Our Incoming President the benefit of the doubt. We should remember that he has many constituencies to negotiate, and has to actually govern as effectively as possible, which means compromise. I try to remember that he is a very smart man, who again and again during the campaign did or said things (or chose not to do or say things) against all the advice that I was muttering at my screen, and again and again his campaign succeeded. I think we should keep hope alive, not only for the future America and the future world that we want to see, but for the success of this incredibly important man at an incredibly important moment.

Sometimes, though, that hope and that benefit should not translate into shrugging our shoulders at the most perplexing and infuriating decisions. Sometimes we need to rant and rave, not despite that hope, but because of that hope. The election is over, but our democracy is not; we voted (we all voted, didn’t we?) and some of us donated and made calls and marched and put up signs and registered voters, and our work is still not done. Nor, please the Divine, will it ever be done. And it seems to me that our work today, and over the next three weeks, has to include a large amount of ranting about Rick Warren.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I see three downsides to ranting about Rick Warren:

1. We build up the importance of him and of this invitation, when we'd rather that he and this invitation be treated as less important.

2. We lend credence to the religious right's claims of persecution or victimhood.

3. We increase the perception that the Left is anti-religious.

On balance, though, I'm all in favor of rants. Including about Rick Warren and this invitation.

been so immersed in other stuff i shrugged about warren until sitting for holiday drinks with some friends -- same sex, planning late-summer wedding -- well, yes, they were sick from it. all i had to say could be summed as, "he's no falwell." somehow with no obvious reason not to protest it, i was playing it down, but not from loyalty, hero worship, i dunno. maybe i'm too circumspect about marriage equality. not cynical, tho.

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