Writer Damon Linker has a new a blog, and just in time to weigh in on this whole Rick Warren situation. His first argument doesn't surprise -- Warren is outreach to evangelicals, the price you pay for politics, etc. But his second comment on the subject just misses the point. Archly, Linker tell us that

Liberals love to declare the end of the culture war, but as soon as a Democrat reaches out to someone on the other side of the cultural/religious divide, prominent liberal groups throw temper tantrums. (Would anything resembling this level of outrage have been sparked by Obama tapping someone who dissented from a liberal line on taxes? Or guns? Or health care? Or even the war? I very much doubt it.)

And so the culture war continues . . .

No, no, no, Damon. When liberals wrote the two articles you link to, they were arguing that economic and other policy issues trumped cultural grandstanding this election -- would you disagree? -- thanks in part to Obama's ability to reach out to people all over the cultural spectrum. But liberals aren't angry about Obama picking Warren because it's reaching out to someone on the other side of the cultural/religious divide; they're angry because Obama has reached out to someone who compares gay marriage to polygamy and incest, who equates pro-choice people with Nazis, who enables torture and who has called for the assassination of a foreign leader on religious grounds. There are other religious leaders, even conservative ones, that would have been more acceptable on any one of these issues, but Warren certainly combines each sensitive spot -- homophobia, extreme anti-choice rhetoric, torture, and international religious grandstanding -- guaranteed to worry the left. But making out all liberals to be somehow anti-religious, and referring to legitimate concerns as "temper tantrums," is the high-handed laziness of someone too busy to report and content to rely on stereotypes.

Perhaps the worst part of Obama's decision is Warren's international commentary; many of his other positions are expected and could be tolerated. This very apt point has been made in other places, but it's a normal American response to view theocratic Iran as a terrifying threat because their leaders will reference apocalyptic religious ideas. And now our president is sharing the stage with ... a preacher who has called on us to kill Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the name of eliminating evil in the world. Glass houses, etc. Given that Linker wrote a book about the theocons and their plan to end secular government, one would think this would concern him more. Linker's post is High Broderism; condemning a conflict of ideas -- be it "partisanship" or "the culture war" -- without taking time to understand what the fight means to those participating in it.

For my part, as a religious liberal, I understand and respect Obama's motives in tapping Warren to deliver the invocation, but I'm also disappointed that he chose someone whose rhetoric, especially since the election, has grown more divisive. But, at the end of the day, Obama is everybody's president; President Bush's inability to grasp that fact -- to grasp that liberals and Democrats are also Americans -- played a big part in the failure of his presidency. Obama would make the same mistake at his peril. Unlike some, I thought Obama's decision to participate in the Saddleback forum was a good one, and he did well there.

Here's my wish, since I don't imagine they'll rescind the Warren invite: Have Rev. Joseph Lowery deliver the invocation, and Warren end the ceremony. Better, but much less likely: Reach out to socially conservative Americans by inviting a Catholic bishop who opposes torture and the war and supports social justice. A man can dream ...

--Tim Fernholz

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