“President-elect Barack Obama, the Rev. Rick Warren, and the Mythical 'Middle Ground' ”

Column No. 213

Right-wing commentators such as the sometimes hard-to-categorize Pat Buchanan, the comedian Bill Kristol, the still-trying-to-shake-her "Reagan Hagiographer" label Peggy Noonan, and so-called "even-handed" cable news personalities such as "Morning Joe and Mika" of MSNBC were all het-up about why the "left" (these folks wouldn't know a real LEFT if they saw one) is so het up about Pres.-elect Obama's choice of Rick Warren to deliver the Inauguration Invocation. "It's a free country," they say. "There's a wide range of views on gay marriage" (which happens to be Rick Warren's least odious on-the-gay-question position) they say. "Obama is showing himself to be tolerant," they say. Obama is looking for "common ground," they say.

"You'se guys" (which is what they would say to us lefties if they spoke Noo Yawk) are just a bunch of whiners. Or worse, you are just as bad as the Christian Fundamentalists, except I cannot remember when any of the above listed "authorities" ever criticized the latter group for anything. For example, when Gov. Huckabee, the funny man, was riding high for a bit during the Republican primaries last winter, he was on the cable news shows a lot. And thus I saw him a lot. I don’t remember one question ever being asked him about the fact that he is not just a run-of-the-mill Right-Wing Christian Fundamentalist (which fact itself never came up in questions), but that he had major Dominionist backing. (Dominionists believe that Constitutional government in the United States should be replaced by the “Dominion of God,” based upon their particular so-called “literal” reading of a particular translation [usually the King James Version] of the Bible, in other words institution of a theocracy). No questions there. But that's another story.

These folks then proceed, not surprisingly, to talk about Warren only in the context of his opposition to gay marriage. They trot out all of the traditional arguments in defense of the position (whether it is theirs or not is often left unclear) that "traditional marriage" is "between a man and a woman" and thus should not be/cannot be changed. There are two problems here, folks. First, if that were the only way that Warren demonstrated his antipathy towards gays and equal civil rights for them, one could have a rational argument with him and the people he represents, using one or more of the usual arguments in favor of the gay-marriage-is-just-fine position.

One could point out that the "nature of marriage" has changed oodles over the centuries. For example: under slavery in this country, slaves couldn't marry each other; in the 19th century, women were their husbands' property; in many states until various times in the 20th century, women had no property rights; until relatively recently in a number of states, so-called "mixed race" marriages were illegal (that one being particularly puzzling: since very few African-Americans are of "pure" African blood and therefore at least one partner of a proposed "mixed" marriage was already "mixed" courtesy of a slave-master or a successor, exactly where and how was the line drawn); in the present time, although polygamy is technically illegal, it is openly practiced in various rural areas of certain Western states, with penalties being exacted only very occasionally, usually only when there is a very big difference between the age of the "husband" and one or more of his "wives."

Then one could roll out the big gun (unfortunately very rarely used by gay marriage proponents who for some reason[s] seem to be afraid to go there). In my view, the most important argument in favor of legalizing gay marriage (and I have written extensively on this one elsewhere, is the Constitutional one. Marriage in this country is a bimodal institution, civil and religious. Each one of the 50 states has an extensive body of civil law governing marriage. To prevent persons of the same sex from taking advantage of the legal protections of the institution (as well as assuming its legal obligations) violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, to wit: “nor shall any State . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

However, there is a second, and much more important problem with Warren. It is that, as is well known, opposition to the institution of gay marriage is for him only a cover. This guy is a true homophobe. In one context or another, for him homosexuality is akin to incest (a matter of opinion and definition); homosexuals are pedophiles (and surely, let's not let facts get in the way: the last time I looked, 95% of cases of pedophilia that come to light are committed by straight men, most often on their own children); gay marriage is akin to polygamy (with that stretch, was this guy a first-baseman, even Warren happily allied himself with the Mormon-funded pro-Prop 8 campaign while the vast majority of practicing polygamists in the U.S. are Mormons [heaven help the Muslim who tries it]); homosexuality by nature is in the nature of child abuse; and he may well hold to the James Dobson view that homosexuality is a choice. This latter one is as if (forgetting about all of the evidence supporting the in-built explanation) anyone would actually want to choose to be a homosexual in this most homophobic of societies in the non-Muslim world, a society in which one of the two major political parties runs in major part on the prejudice, just as the pre-Civil Rights Southern Democrats ran on racism and the post-Civil Rights Republicans did too (until they discovered homophobia and were able to turn down the former, some).

So. Despite all of this, the supporters of Pres.-elect Obama's position, from within his Campaign-soon-to-be-White-House staff, and from within the Commentatariat, say that what he is doing is showing that he is "open to other points of view." That "he wants to bring us as a people together, not divide us." That "we need to find the middle ground." Well, I see two problems with that one. First, what is happening here is that homophobia is getting a pass; it is being treated as just another "point of view," another "perspective." After all, “there are indeed many voices in the United States. They should all be heard.” Oh really? There are many anti-Semitic preachers in our Nation. They too have "another point of view." Showing his "openness" to "other ideas," why should Obama not invite one of them to give a prayer at the Inauguration? There are many racist preachers in our Nation. (Although we don't hear much about either group, The Southern Poverty Law Center could tell you a bunch about both.) How about inviting one of them?

"Well that's different," many folks would say. And aye, folks, there's the rub. Homophobia has now replaced anti-Semitism and anti-black racism as the "OK" prejudice in this country. And in the name of "openness to other ideas," it is being promoted by all sorts of folks, such as the aforementioned "authorities." What we as a nation have to realize and realize very quickly is that there is no DLC-type "middle ground" on questions such as the “on-first-appearance-not-in-any-way-homophobic” gay marriage one. “Civil unions” don’t solve the problem. They still violate the 14th Amendment. Denying the Marriage Right to gay couples still makes gays and lesbians into second-class citizens, deprived of a basic CIVIL right. Denying that the anti-gay marriage movement is homophobia-in-full is to deny reality.


We are moving quickly in the direction of having an officially approved prejudice, one approved in search of that mythical "middle ground," by oh-so-ironically the first African-American U.S. President. HOWEVER. You either are a homophobe or you ain't. Just like in Harlan County, Kentucky, in the famous Depression-era United Mine Workers song: "They say in Harlan County, there are no neutrals there. You either are a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair." There is no "middle ground."  In Nazi Germany, before they came for the Jews, they came for the Gays. In "The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2001-2022" published by its pseudononymous author Jonathan Westminster in 1996, first the "Christian Republicans" came for the gays. It was only when they were all killed or expelled form the country that they returned to the blacks. As for the Jews, the antifascists among them were classified as "Renegade Jews.” The fascist government went after them too, as Jews. Beware America, beware. It is a very slippery slope that we are now collectively sliding down.


When the First Civil War began, Abraham Lincoln thought that it was about the Constitution (no provision for secession there, and no provision for necessary expansion of slavery into the Territories). By the time he wrote his Second Inaugural he had learned that the Civil War had been about slavery all the time: “One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war.” Obama may think that there is some “middle ground” on gay marriage, or on abortion rights, or separation of church and state, or on the Rule of Law and Constitutional government. Just as there was no middles ground on slavery, there is none on the matters just above either.  “You either are a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair.”  If he learns the latter lesson, his election will mark a true political turning point in the history of our country. If he does not, his election will just have given us a four-year pause on the steady, slow march to fascism which began with the election of Ronald Reagan.




This column is based in part on one of mine by the same name published on BuzzFlash on Dec. 30, 2008.