From FDR to Rick Warren

Progress comes only incrementally. No one is perfect. Don’t insist on perfection at risk of undoing the incrementally good. Inclusiveness is better than judgmental polarization. Tolerance of disagreement is a good thing.

We must set the right priorities. Saving our very country — its failed economy, its failed health care system, its failed schools, its besmirched international standing — must come first.

These are words to live by as we ponder Barack Obama’s calling on pastor-author Rick Warren to say a little prayer at the inauguration.

Strident liberals and gays and lesbians are outraged. They feel betrayed. They think they elected a supposed friend who has now turned around and sold them out to a man who has no tolerance of them.

They insist the line should be drawn on inclusiveness when you embrace and publicly validate a man who likens homosexuality to pedophilia and preaches the subjugation of some people’s rights, meaning those of homosexuals to marry, mainly.

They argue that no politician on the right ever asks his base to put up with a left-wing radical in the interest of some vaunted inclusiveness. They complain that it’s always the left being asked to hold its nose for the polar-opposite foes, the troglodytes of the right.

But that can be explained simply: America remains a country that tilts center-right. A man from the left who gets elected president does so in spite of his being on the left. Perhaps the opposition was weak and the country in collapse and crisis.

So for the liberal then to be able to govern — especially at such a vital and trying time, one requiring unified effort — he must make overtures to the center of his constituents’ political gravity, which is to his right.

Liberals remain generally less valuable as American political allies than conservatives. That’s just the way it is. Beyond that, let us ponder the words to live by in the beginning paragraphs.

Since progress comes only incrementally through imperfect people, and since we shouldn’t insist on perfection at the risk of undoing the incrementally good, consider this: Rick Warren is better than Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson.

Warren preaches some measure of inclusiveness himself. He has insisted that religious principles do not fall along American party boundaries. He says we need a new and less mean American politics.

Yes, Warren is opposed to abortion and he thinks the Bible teaches him that homosexuality is a perversion. He is entitled to those views. Others are entitled to deplore his views.

That doesn’t mean it hurts a thing in the world for Warren to say a prayer at the inaugural and stand as a symbol of new alliances, if still tenuous and superficial.

And remember this: After the "amen" is said, Warren will go back to the pulpit and to write books while Obama will go the Oval Office, taking a modern and enlightened view of gays and lesbians with him. He wants civil unions, to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and to undo the military’s policy of not asking and not telling.

Consider the earlier reference to setting the right priorities: Our country faces essential challenges reminiscent of the Great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt. History records Roosevelt as a great president for advancing an agenda that is credited with helping lead the country out of that.

FDR was good, but he was not perfect. He had American citizens — those of Japanese heritage — imprisoned for no reason other than their lineage.

Not quite 80 years later, Obama is letting a preacher with some fundamentalist theological beliefs lead one prayer.

That’s incremental improvement since FDR’s time, if you ask me.

If Obama rounds up homosexuals and puts them in camps, then I’ll need to write a retraction.


John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton’s first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@

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