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December 22, 2008

Obama Fans Suddenly Outraged by Bigotry

by Steven Salaita

Barack Obama's choice of Pastor Rick Warren of Orange County's Saddleback Church to give the invocation at his inauguration has sent the liberal blogosphere into a frenzy of apprehension and indignation. Warren is an advocate of Proposition 8, the measure that repealed gays' right to marry in California. It is no doubt a poor choice by Obama, but the outrage arising from the liberal-Left misses a number of crucial points, primary among them the fact that Obama's selection of Warren may be in poor taste but it is in no way a betrayal.

In fact, none of Obama's Cabinet or advisory selections have been betrayals, although such an accusation is in vogue among increasingly jittery liberals. "Now it has officially gone too far," declares Sarah Posner in the Nation, displaying a bit of the ceremonial righteousness that only the pious can muster. Warren is "a poster boy for kinder, gentler 21st century bigotry, and Obama shouldn't validate him with this lofty symbolic role," notes Joan Walsh at Salon.com.

The disapproval of Warren is justified, but the anger at Obama is not. (The very existence of an invocation delivered by an evangelical pastor at an American presidential inauguration is problematic in itself, but that's a topic for another day.) I ask Obama's disillusioned advocates: When exactly did Obama support gay marriage? Please find the public statement he has made that indicates he would eschew centrism in favor of his grassroots' concerns.

Here's what Obama had to say about gay marriage during his campaign: "I'm a Christian. And so, although I try not to have my religious beliefs dominate or determine my political views on this issue, I do believe that tradition, and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman." This statement exquisitely portends the courtship of somebody like Rick Warren. Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, also spoke to the issue during the campaign. In his debate with Sarah Palin, he was asked if he supported gay marriage. "No," Biden responded flatly. "Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage." Palin, the blight of decent liberals everywhere, chimed in, "My answer is the same as his."

I take no pleasure in Obama's selection of Warren, because if his bigoted activism helps preclude American citizens from exercising their rights, then there is little to say in his favor. However, I find it amusing to watch liberals howl their disappointment. Most of them apparently never listened to Obama during the campaign, when he contextualized his staunchly centrist politics with the slogans "hope" and "change." What did he really mean by "hope" and "change"? These terms, after all, can denote nearly anything. It turns out they were a bit of marketing genius, because Obama's rhetoric didn't require denotation. He smiled charmingly and watched most of his supporters project their own wishes onto the slogans, never really aware of (or interested in) the positions Obama actually professed. His actions since the election do not belie any of those professions.

These facts are indicative of a profound lack of critical thought in the American electoral process. They also illustrate how complicit liberals are in domestic chauvinism and overseas aggression. It is deeply saddening that vapid platitudes like "hope" and "change" captured the imagination of so many people who proclaim (or actually desire) a commitment to justice.

These facts also underline an implicit hypocrisy among most liberal commentators, one that is important to identify and work against: their silence about, or reproduction of, anti-Arab/anti-Iranian/anti-Afghan racism. I'm glad that Obama's friendship with the homophobic Warren inspired outrage, but where was the outrage when Obama displayed racism during the election? Just like Obama's legitimization of homophobia, his racism wasn't explicit, but it was there tacitly, available to any interested person, particularly in his unswerving support of Israel's colonization of Palestine.

Again, I do not blame Obama here. He made his politics perfectly clear during the election, as when he announced that "the Iranian regime is a threat to all of us," or when he stated repeatedly that Afghanistan "has to be our central focus, the central front, on our battle against terrorism." The following quote is a good indicator of his feelings about Israel's brutal treatment of the Palestinians: "[I]n the end, the Palestinian people are suffering from the Hamas-led government's refusal to renounce terrorism."

When Obama dredged up a coterie of Zionist A-listers for his foreign policy team, liberals could be heard grumbling here and there, but very few of them expressed any concern for the many people in the Arab world and Central and South Asia who would suffer from those choices.

Arabs and Muslims should therefore recognize the implicit message loudly and clearly: discrimination is a bad thing, as long as it isn't happening to those with brown skin, strange names, and an embedded suspicion of the Democratic Party.

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Steven Salaita's Bio

Steven Salaita's latest book is The Uncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought.

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