First post from Ed – 1/2/09 (written 12/22/08)
Barack Obama has asked Reverend Rick Warren, the evangelical preacher who heads the big Saddleback Church in Orange County, to offer the invocation at his presidential inaugural next month, and according to the media, that invitation has become the biggest story of the post-election transition period.
Obama is taking a lot of heat for this choice, primarily, if not solely, because Warren is a homophobe, or at least he would pass for one based on his unambiguous statements on the subject of gay marriage. Indeed, when Warren was asked if he considered gay marriage as abhorrent as incest, polygamy or pedophilia, he answered yes all three times.
Of course, Obama didn’t select Warren because of his views on gay marriage or on homosexuality. He selected him because Warren supposedly represents a new kind of evangelical preacher, one who goes beyond the traditional “family values” agenda in his ministry. For example, he actually speaks of the need to care for the poor and to provide relief for third-world victims of AIDS and to help single-parent/out-of-wedlock mothers. These issues would not have been high on the list (if they were on the list at all) of guys like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson in their heydays.
So, Obama, probably seeing an opportunity to bridge a gap in the nation’s societal divide (and undoubtedly to score some points with his political foes in the evangelical community) extended the offer to Warren. And Warren, whose role in this little drama still needs to be determined, accepted.
No sooner had the news become public, however, than the gay community and many of their allies on the left went ballistic. Never mind that Obama’s cabinet selections had been eyebrow-raising (too centrist for many of his supporters) or that Obama himself has hardly sounded like a far-lefty since his election. The single event that has brought a negative reaction from his base is this invitation to a homophobic evangelical minister to deliver an otherwise quickly-to-be-forgotten prayer at the start of his inaugural ceremony.
The issue that the Warren issue raises, when viewed dispassionately, is whether Obama made the right call in reaching out to this particular man. And the answer to that question will turn on how Warren handles his assignment. If he is smart, he will meet Obama halfway by issuing a statement, for example, that goes something like this:
“I have prayed hard about the reaction to President-elect Obama’s choice of me to deliver the invocation, and I have grown with God’s grace to understand that I was wrong to compare gay marriage to …”
That kind of statement would prove that Obama knew what he was doing in picking this particular preacher. A divide would have been slightly bridged, and America would have taken another small step away from its unsavory past.
Or Rev. Warren can pretend there is no controversy, stick to his guns on gay marriage and continue in his homophobic ways. In that case, Obama loses and the country suffers another round of divisiveness.
But while that melodrama is going on – and while the media remains fixated on it – a far more serious issue is slipping under the radar.
Remember that big bailout issue for the banks and financial institutions that raged midway through the fall presidential campaign? It was the one that caused John McCain to “suspend” his campaign temporarily (except that he really didn’t) so he could rally the Senate around the bailout bill (except that he really didn’t).
That issue resulted, ultimately, in a $700 billion bailout bill that Congress passed and the president signed. The bill gave complete authority for the disbursement of the bailout funds (they have since been dubbed TARP, for Troubled Asset Relief Program, funds) to the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, who promised that these funds would save the calamity that was about to befall the U.S. economy.
The idea was that banks and other lending institutions had become so strapped for assets, i.e., money, that there was literally none to loan, with the result that America’s financial engine was grinding to a halt. Fears of a major recession, or worse, abounded, and most responsible legislators soon signed on to the program.
Well, here we are, three months later and half of the $700 billion has been disbursed by Paulson (a cool $125 billion went to one institution, A.I.G., and it immediately sent its execs on a half-million dollar “retreat” so they could all learn how to make more money for their company), and the country is probably in worse economic straits now than it was before TARP came into existence.
Admittedly, trying to figure out what’s going on with the economy is not nearly as “sexy” as reporting the rift in the soon-to-be-new-president’s base. But in the end, in fact right now, the bigger story by far is what happened to all that money?!
What happened is that Secretary Paulson essentially and fundamentally applied the same flawed philosophical approach to financial oversight as he (and his predecessors) had in creating the problem in the first place.
Here, very simply, is what has happened. Paulson has given the money to any and all troubled banks and investment firms who asked for it without imposing any requirements on how they use the funds. In other words, he has again followed the “free market” approach.
And, of course, rather than lend the money to businesses who need it to operate, the recipient banks and lending institutions have instead hoarded it or have so tightened their lending requirements that virtually no one can qualify for loans, even though the money is now there to lend.
And so, with the national debt having suddenly mushroomed by a cool $350 billion, the country has nothing to show for it. And lest there be any doubt, it is the anti-government, deregulation philosophy that is at the core of the Paulson TARP giveaway.
Keep the government out of the picture. Avoid oversight. De-regulate. Let the markets cure themselves.
It’s the same old song, and it’s still a broken record.