I’ve been mulling over Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to give his inaugural invocation. It plugs in nicely to a pattern that is emerging in Obama’s leadership style, which has absolutely nothing to do with cultivating a climate of opposing ideas among a "team of rivals" — and everything to do with silencing dissent among his critics.
The PR spin they have put on Obama’s administration hires is that a group of supremely qualified people from differing ends of the political spectrum will come together with heterogeneous and sometimes contentious positions, and that in their conflict they will challenge each other to greater intellectual heights and supply the country with a wellspring of new ideas.
But look at what happened to Sheila Bair. Nothing could be further from the truth. Timothy Geitner wants her out as head of the FDIC because she’s not "a team player." People familiar with the Treasury transition team say she is universally reviled from within their ranks because she has called for TARP funds to be used to directly aid mortgage holders, while the orthodoxy within the Obama treasury folks is that any mortgage assistance needs to be done by the banks so as not to encourage further default.
As Digby said at the time Geitner publicly attacked Bair, "the media (and even unnamed members of the Obama team) have made a fetish out of the idea of having a ‘team of rivals’ who will hash out ideas from all sides…. the whole thing doesn’t scan politically any way you look at it."
Obama is not creating a climate of intellectual rivalry. He’s pulling his most potentially powerful critics under his political umbrella, where they can — at least in theory — be more easily controlled. The Senate portends to be the biggest roadblock to anything Obama wants to accomplish, and Hillary Clinton (and what’s left of the Clinton machine) may present fewer challenges from within the administration than from without. Likewise, I’m personally delighted that Ken Salazar is out of the Senate — he’s an idiot and the idea that as a "centrist" Democrat he would hold swing vote power over anything gave me the chills.
But one of the byproducts of pacifying your critics in such a manner is that you wind up empowering some pretty unsavory characters. Rick Warren is a bloated, narcissistic egomaniac who got elevated in the last election because McCain and Obama shared the common goal of diminishing the importance of people like James Dobson. Warren is cut from the same mold, with just slightly less offensive packaging. He’s a vicious homophobe who used the political power he gained from the Saddleback event to spread the lies that helped to pass Prop 8.
During the election battle, even McCain strategists had to concede that Obama’s appeal to Christians who wanted to redefine how they exercised their faith in public life was powerful:
"The evangelical movement is changing," says a major McCain fundraiser. "It’s moving to a bigger place—it’s not just pro-life, but includes people who care deeply about homelessness, the environment, Darfur."
"This movement is the next generation," he said. "The question ‘Who is an evangelical?’ involves a much broader picture. And the guy who has been talking about faith is Obama." He predicted that the movement’s transformation would have an influence this election, but won’t fully play out until future contests….
But rather than having faith in his own message of change and believing that the country is at a point where we’re ready to move past Warren’s kind of hate mongering, Obama chose the cynical politician’s move of flattering him and giving him a high profile gig.
So Rick Warren can play Jerry Falwell to Obama’s George Bush. Not so much change after all.
Obama is well aware of the problems that arose when he asked the homophobic Donnie McClurkin to appear on his behalf. He’s too smart not to know what would happen.
The fact that this deeply offends his "liberal supporters" once again is starting to look more like a feature than a bug.