Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

John Lumea Headshot

On Inaugural Preacher Picks, Activists and Bloggers Are Caught in Their Own Web

Posted: Updated:

Late on Tuesday, Open Left front-pager Paul Rosenberg approvingly flagged a Salon piece in which Nancy Goldstein sought to skewer President-elect Barack Obama, in response to Monday's late-breaking announcement that Obama had invited Bishop Gene Robinson, of New Hampshire -- the country's first openly gay Episcopal bishop -- to offer the invocation on Sunday at the opening inaugural event, the "We Are One" concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

In the wake of the Rick Warren business, Obama's selection of Robinson is, Goldstein argues, "too little, too late."

But Goldstein's attempt to use the timing of the Warren and Robinson announcements, to "divine" Obama's priorities, is flawed, at best. Again: The timing of these announcements is not necessarily an index of Obama's priorities.

Goldstein writes (bold emphases mine):

Finally: Nearly four weeks and tons of negative press since Barack Obama announced his choice of...Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the presidential inauguration, Team Obama has gone into damage control mode. Monday morning they announced that Obama has also invited the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who was elected the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop in 2003, to deliver the invocation for Sunday's kickoff inaugural event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial....[I]t took literally 27 days of outright uproar on queer and progressive blogs for Team Obama to issue the invitation.

But when Melissa Block, interviewing Robinson yesterday on NPR, asked the direct question -- "[The Warren] announcement came on December 17th; when did you get your own invitation to speak?" -- Robinson replied:

I was actually invited about two and a half weeks ago. But I am told -- and I believe it's true -- that this was in the works, actually, quite a long time.

Of course, one could speculate that Robinson was lying. But if we can take Robinson at his word -- and I see no compelling reason not to do so -- "about two and a half weeks ago" would put the invitation itself at some point just after Christmas. So: Not "nearly four weeks" and not "literally 27 days" after the Warren announcement. More like a week and a half.

(And let's be honest: Would the LGBT activist and progressive blog reaction to the Robinson announcement really have been any different, had it come two and a half weeks -- rather than two and a half days -- ago?)

None of this necessarily means that the timing of the Robinson invitation and announcement wasn't -- at least, on some level -- a response to the furor over Warren. But neither does the mere fact that both the Robinson invitation and the Robinson announcement appear to have come after the Warren announcement necessarily mean that Obama wasn't already thinking about Robinson, before he invited Warren.

What I'm getting to is that the timeline that LGBT activists and progressive bloggers are "responding" to is a media construct that they themselves helped to create -- but that may have very little to do with Obama's own thinking or priorities.

Consider Joseph Lowery, the progressive minister and civil rights icon. News that Lowery, who has been a staunch advocate for gay civil rights, will offer the benediction at Obama's inauguration came on the very same day -- 17 December -- as did the news that Rick Warren will offer the invocation.

And yet, Lowery's participation -- which, if anything, carries more, not less, prominence and status than Warren's -- was completely buried, when LGBT activists, progressive bloggers, and -- obligingly -- the traditional media immediately jumped on the Warren hobbyhorse.

A Google blog search on "Rick Warren" and "Joseph Lowry" brings up 45 pages of results for posts that mention both names.

For the same period, there are more than twice as many pages of results -- 97 -- for "Rick Warren."

Yesterday -- the same day as NPR's interview of Gene Robinson -- NPR ran a story about Lowery's benediction, under the headline "Civil Rights Icon To Deliver Inaugural Benediction," as if this were breaking news.

But on 17 December, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, reporting on the formal announcement of the Lowery pick, wrote that, according to Lowery, Obama initially had called him about participating in the inauguration "a few weeks ago." When did Obama start considering Lowery for the inauguration? Do we know? I suspect not. And yet: LGBT activists and progressive bloggers behave as though the Warren pick trumps the Lowery pick, utterly.

Robinson said that he had been told that his own pick had been in the works for "quite a long time," before he was formally invited sometime after Christmas and formally announced this week. When did Obama start thinking about Robinson for the inauguration? Do we know? I suspect not. And yet: LGBT activists and progressive bloggers presume that the belated date of the formal announcement of Robinson signifies all.

Warren was formally announced on 17 December. When did Obama formally invite him? Do we know? When did Obama start considering Warren for the inauguration? Do we know? I suspect not. And yet, again: LGBT activists and progressive bloggers willfully ignore Lowery and presume that Warren signifies all.

You see what I'm saying. The timeline of announcements, as reported by the media, simply is not necessarily a reliable indicator of Obama's thought process, his values, or his priorities. It isn't. And we must not fall into the trap of believing that it is -- especially when the traditional media ran with the Warren story, as a specific response to LGBT activist and progressive blogger "outrage."

All the sound and fury over Warren and Robinson signifies...well, not nothing, but significantly less than those making all the noise think.

For the record, I don't believe we should have ministers -- Christian or otherwise -- praying over inaugurations, at all. But if have them we must, then, surely, Lowery's "last word" will be more significant, in framing the meaning of the inauguration, than Warren's first.