Obama Controversy Bigger In Netroots Than in Real World

Those who read the blogs the last few days as opposed to the mainstream media would have a totally different view of the Obama campaign. Not only has Obama been the subject of numerous attacks for having McClurkin at his campaign’s gospel concert, but some are even writing off the campaign as dead. I’ve written in the past of the tendency of some bloggers to greatly exaggerate the importance of the netroots, and this is about as good an example as I’ve ever seen.

I disagree with Obama’s decision to invite McClurkin, as well as oppose the mixing of religion in politics. If we had a perfect candidate (who responded to questions of religion in a political campaign in this manner) this might be enough to take Obama out of consideration. Unfortunately none of the candidates are so great as to allow me to discount one based upon who they have at a concert.

Often overlooked in all the controversy is the actual positions of the candidates, as well as Obama’s statements of disagreement with McClurkin. If we are limited to the three candidates which the media has declared are the ones with a chance, Obama is preferable to Clinton and Edwards issues related to separation of church and state and on gay issues. While I would prefer he hadn’t done so, having McClurkin at a concert was far less objectionable than Bill Clinton’s advice to John Kerry (which I suspect his wife went along with) to endorse the anti-gay marriage amendments where they were on the ballot in order to pick up more votes. If we are going to look at who a candidate associates with, Mother Jones says of Hillary:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. “A lot of evangelicals would see that as just cynical exploitation,” says the Reverend Rob Schenck, a former leader of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who now ministers to decision makers in Washington. “I don’t….there is a real good that is infected in people when they are around Jesus talk, and open Bibles, and prayer.”

The effects of this mistake on Obama’s campaign have been greatly exaggerated, largely as few outside of the liberal blogosphere are even aware of this. The Democratic Strategist writes:

To read many progressive bloggers, Obama’s decision to involve McClurkin (introduced to him, reportedly, by Oprah Winfrey) was a cataclysmic mistake. So says Kos, who called it the lowpoint of the “worst [week] I have seen from any candidate in this presidential cycle.” So says Atrios, who described Obama’s explanation of his decision as “incredibly insulting” to, well, just about everybody. So says Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake, who dismisses arguments that Obama just screwed up, and accuses him of “dog-whistle outreach” to gay-bashers.

So how did the brouhaha play down in South Cackalacki itself? Well, the Columbia State, which features massive political coverage every day, didn’t bother to cover Obama’s Columbia event. It did publish an AP story with the title: “McClurkin Wins Cheers At Obama Event Despite Gay Protests,” which gives you an idea how seriously the writer took the cataclysmic-disaster interpretation of Obama’s gospel tour.

These different optics reflect the very different issues Obama’s campaign was dealing with in putting on this kind of event. On the one hand, it deeply offended not only gays and lesbians, but many progressive activists who want to support Obama as an alternative to Clinton, but suspect his commitment to the kind of ideological rigor and partisan zeal they consider essential in a nominee. On the other hand, it might have done him some good in SC, where his candidacy may ultimately rise or fall based on his ability to wrest a sizable majority of African-American votes away from HRC.

I realize I am analyzing this episode from a purely political, not moral, point of view. But so, too, are many of those who are blasting Obama nonstop today. Nobody really believes that Barack Obama is homophobic, and nobody (at least on the Left side of the political spectrum) really doubts the sincerity of his religious faith. There’s no contradiction there, since Obama belongs to a faith community, the United Church of Christ, that proudly ordains gay and lesbian clergy.

I suspect that much of the attack against Obama was motivated largely by support for other candidates. Some bloggers also have taken offense that Obama is not running what they consider a progressive campaign representing the predominant views of the netroots on all issues. The fact that he is not running a campaign of this nature is what makes him appealing to many others.

Leave a comment