The prince and the pastor

Obama with Machiavelli looking over his shoulder?

I have been trying to think through President-elect Obama’s decision to have the purpose-driven pastor Rick Warren speak at his presidential inauguration. This choice has inflamed both the secular and LGBT community on the web including “Andrew Sullivan”: and “John Hodgman”: I too had a serious _WTF!?_ moment when I saw the announcement.

However, on further thought, I am starting to think that this is another sign of Obama’s pragmatic politics (a.k.a. what some idealists are calling “post-partisan politics”). Rick Warren is no ally of Obama, and a large portion of the American population is backing Obama. I think this is a matter of Team Obama kicking the ball downfield on the first down to wait and see whether Team Evangelist will fumble it. Obama offers Warren the chance to kiss the ring and come on board, and if Warren shoots his mouth on at the wrong time he relegates his team to the bench in the eyes of the American people (how were those last sentences for literary clichés?). If Warren plays along then Obama can continue his post-partisan policy-making without the direct opposition (an tacit support) of the evangelical movement that has so infected American politics.

Pragmatism, Machiavelli-style.

About Younghusband

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband (1863-1942) was a British explorer, army officer, military-political officer, and foreign correspondent born in India who led expeditions into Manchuria, Kashgar, and Tibet. He three times tried and failed to scale Mt. Everest and journeyed from China to India, crossing the Gobi desert and the Mustagh Pass (alt. c.19,000 ft/5,791 m) of the Karakoram mountain range in modern day Pakistan. Convinced of Russian designs on British interests in India, Younghusband proactively engaged in the nineteenth century spying and conflict over Central Asia between the British and the Russians known as the Great Game. "Younghusband" is a Canadian who has spent a number of years bouncing back and forth between his home country and Japan. Fluent in Japanese and English with experience in numerous other languages from Spanish to Georgian, Younghusband has travelled throughout Asia. He graduated with an MA from the War Studies Department at the Royal Military College of Canada, where he focussed on the Japanese oil industry and energy security issues. He has recently returned to Canada from Japan, and is working in the technology sector.
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5 Responses to The prince and the pastor

  1. Good assessment. Obama is trying to capture as much of the center as possible. This is a smart move. The gay rights issue is a vote loser. Obama knows that. The people who are energized by it have no place else to go, so he can do this, and they have to choke it down What he will do is make centrist gestures, while rewarding his supporters quietly. Obama is good at this kind of thing. He coopts his enemies, makes public gestures of openness, then he quietly works his actual agenda.

  2. Joe Jones says:

    There are many red-state “bitters” who are paranoid about LGBTs and “pro-gays” taking over the country to the exclusion of religious conservatives. Obama really has to keep this rift as closed as possible if he wants to stabilize the political environment in Washington.

  3. Curzon says:

    I don’t think there’s anything Machiavellian here, and the announcement was pretty predictable. There are two things going on here, neither of which I see discussed in your post. The first is that Obama has been very clear that he opposes gay marriage, and with the exception of some issues with regards to race, Obama is not liberal on social policy. Indeed, Proposition 8 in California probably passed because of all the conservative Black and Latino Americans that got out to vote for him. The second issue is that, even if Obama does aid the gay rights cause, he wants to make sure he doesn’t get into the “gays in the military” push that hurt Clinton’s administration. His entire post-election strategy has been telling liberals to shove it and not define his administration. By no means is this an offer for Warren to get on board. Indeed, the risk here is all Obama’s, not Warren’s.

  4. tdaxp says:

    It is Machiavellian, and Curzon describes some of the reasons why.

    Machiavelli urged to be suspicious of those who supported your rise, and depend on those who opposed you, as the first as friends of the status quo, and the second are malcontents.

    It’s a smart way to form a dynasty — ally with all those who hate the old regime on the way out, and then once you’re in power, your rolodex turns into the list of enemies you have to castrate.

  5. jerseyguy says:

    Once elected every politician starts thinking about how to win the next election. If he ran as a leftist, he’ll throw some meat to the right and vice versa. It’s a much simpler model than Machiavellian: “It’s all about the next election, stupid.” Most importantly, it’s been confirmed many times by the post-election behavior of both libs & conservs.