I understand why a lot of liberals are outraged by Barack Obama's decision to have Rick Warren perform the invocation when he's inaugurated next month.
Much has been written in the past couple days about Obama's bid for political inclusiveness. My sense is that Obama's choice reflects, in part, a genuine desire, personally and politically, to bridge the divide between right and left -- an aspiration that, on this occasion, comes at the expense of gays, gay activists and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Personally, I don't know much about Warren, though I am disappointed by his seeming transformation from a benign "self-help with a Christian twist" guru into an agent of intolerance, judging from his disingenuous support for Prop. 8. (Though there is a substantive difference between Warren and hard-core preachers like the late Jerry Falwell, and it's significant that Obama is promoting a leader who represents the moderate face of the evangelical community.)
But I suspect that, for Obama, there's a shrewd and cynical motive at work as well. Obama comes into office facing greater challenges than perhaps any other modern president. He knows Republicans in Congress are likely to obstruct his initiatives at every turn and then run against his failure to turn around the economy in 2010.
And having been witness to McCain's despicable campaign against him, Obama is certainly aware that, as Joe Conason wrote the other day, the Clinton rules will now be back in effect. Right-wing Republicans will use any hint of impropriety to destroy him.
When the Blogojevich scandal broke, Obama probably saw his presidential life pass before his eyes. If anyone in his circle of advisers had been stupid or corrupt enough simply to entertain Blogojevich and his cronies' demands, his presidency would have been over before it started.
By giving Warren this opportunity, Obama will in a single stroke make him a much wealthier and more powerful person -- considering that the president-elect's inauguration will likely be the most-watched event in human history. In "The Godfather" sense, Warren will owe Obama a favor. Having Warren as even a semi-dependable ally will be a major asset when Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and the rest attempt to gin up some fake controversy.
I ran across Greg Sargent's post at TPM as I was writing this, and I think he's exactly right that making this sort of overture to social conservatives will help shield Obama from right-wing attacks.
Obama has an incredibly difficult task ahead of him, and he needs to do whatever he can to prevent it from getting derailed.
To put it bluntly: If gestures such as this enable Obama to enact a progressive agenda -- health care, global warming, Iraq, terrorism, the economy, etc. -- it'll be worth the hurt feelings.