smoke signals

How Rick Warren’s Inaugration Prayer Was the Best Clue that Obama Would Fail on Gay Rights

Remember, this time last year, when Rick Warren’s name was blowing up the spot because the newly elected President Obama had invited the Prop 9 supporter to deliver the inaugural prayer, while gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson was effectively cut from the live broadcast? You should’ve been taking notes then, because it was the barometer of things to come: Democratic misfortune, the bungling of fiercely advocating for gay rights, drama over health care reform and civil liberties infractions.

It’s a bit of a leap to say the future was written on the wall back in January 2009, but we see where Hillary Clinton’s former adviser Peter Daou is coming from.

The question of whether President Obama is too far left or not left enough will be at the center of the message wars in the lead-up to the midterms. And because these two themes have been analyzed and fleshed out in countless articles and blog posts, it’s tempting to see the events of the past year exclusively through the prism of one or the other.

But I’d like to suggest an additional explanation for the demise of Democratic fortunes, namely, that Democratic leaders made two crucial miscalculations in early 2009. A quick glance at the news a year ago today offers clues. On January 19th, 2009, CBS published the “Obama-Lincoln parallel.” The Washington Post wrote about a “bear market for Republicans leaving the Hill or the administration.” The same day, techPresident discussed “How the Obama Transition is Using Tech to Innovate.” Elsewhere that day, LGBT bloggers were complaining that gay Bishop Gene Robinson’s prayer was left out of HBO’s live broadcast of the inaugural concert.

In that small selection of stories, key themes emerge: a) Obama is the next Lincoln; b) The Obama online revolution continues; c) Republicans are finished; d) a handful of progressives aren’t buying it.

Looking back, it’s not that difficult to see how the seeds of today’s Republican resurgence were planted in those early days.

Did the bungling of Robinson’s live speech put us where we are today? That’s a stretch. But yes, for the president of the YouTube era to think we’d be just fine seeing the gay bishop’s speech, uh, on YouTube, it was only the beginning of a series of deliberate missteps.