As a voter, I have the dream that someday my President will actually speak for me.
Not just the vote I represent, not just my demographic... No. I mean someone who truly represents my values, my perspective on the world. Sure, his or her specific policy proposals, the timing of his agenda, etc. may surprise me in the short term. But ultimately we would want the same things.
Barack Obama comes pretty damn close to being this dream candidate. I felt privileged to vote for him. And I'm still elated that he won. From reading his books to watching him on TV, I have had every indication that he believes in the intrinsic worth of each person, whether living in this country or anywhere in the world -- values to which I aspire too.
It should follow from this belief -- shouldn't it? -- that every person is irreducible and worthy of equal treatment. And indeed, all during the campaign, I noticed it in Obama's smallest gesture, or in his tone of voice: he treats people from all different nationalities, cultures, backgrounds, with respect. He cares about being a father, more than anything else. Hey, I thought, this guy expresses my highest ideals!
That's why I feel as if I have been kicked in the stomach.
I learned today that President-Elect Obama has invited Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church in California to give the "invocation" at the inauguration next month. This is the first fissure in my dream... and so the disillusionment begins. Or more exactly, here's where I am reminded that in a democratic country we should never expect perfect accord between our private ideals and the necessary public compromises which constitute our government. Our role as individual citizens is not to straighten the crooked timber of humanity, but to do our part to guide its growth in a favorable direction.
Still, it hurts.
Why do I feel so strongly about Rick Warren?
1) Gays and lesbians should be able to marry like the rest of us. Period. Rick Warren is wrong on this. There is absolutely no coherent argument for two human beings, whatever their gender, not to be able to pledge their undying love for each other in a public fashion. Marriage is not just a symbol; it is an act which changes everything. It represents a reach into the infinite, beyond the span of our own lifetime. is a place where our temporal laws (tax benefits, visiting rights at hospitals, etc.) point to something beyond time, where our nation, as a collection of citizens bound together by respect for laws, honors love, the highest of values.
2) I actually think Obama does not understand the sheer disregard shown in Rick Warren's attacks on the simple hope of gay and lesbian people to marry. And that lacuna of understanding shows a serious blind spot in Obama's empathy towards others. If this, then what other blind spots will he reveal in the next four years? Will this have consequences in the way Obama wields power in the world? Someone who cannot see the serious flaw in Rick Warren's ideology will possibly not see serious flaws in others' belief structures as well. Barack Obama is tough -- I'm not disputing that. He appears to be kind too. But is he wise?
We'll see. My demolusionment -- the distance between my own imaginings and things as they really must be in a pluralistic, democratic polity -- officially begins today.