Genius? At a stroke Obama embraced part of the Religious Right, made one of its leaders beholden to him, split that movement with a cleaver, and activated a Netroots base that might otherwise have gotten complacent following his victory. Oh, he also got a big part of the country off the Blagoyevich trail.
If that is not genius, what is?
Consider. Instead of dog-whistling for the right, the nation's cable media has spent nearly a week dog-whistling for the left, playing (and re-playing) Warren's more outrageous stances on the TeeVee, and showing just how buffoonish Warren's opposition to equal rights really is.
It reminds me of something I did once, a 1975 band show for the Rice MOB attacking the Houston Astrodome and its builder, Roy Hofheinz. The band was under threat over a 1973 show attacking Texas A&M, which was a big institution with lots of people in it. My show attacked one man, or one man's vision, and the media behavior offered important lessons. When we went after a lot of people, we were the villains. When we went after one guy, he was the villain.
Obama turned a mass movement into one man, and made both seem weak in the process.
Rick Warren could have been, and still could be, a powerful foe. He has spent the decade trying to update Jerry Falwell's message, making it more "mainstream" by layering-on a little bit of environmentalism, wrapping it in love, and selling it to the mass market. Now books that had been a way for evangelicals to back down from their confrontation with the culture have again become ways to identify people who stand against the culture. The door to the political center has been slammed in the Religious Right's face.
Warren gives the first speech of the show, really the last speech that will be heard while George W. Bush remains President. Warren's presence on that stage will remind us, one more time, of just how divisive those social issues are, how petty, how small.
Then Obama will take the Oath, and then he will give his Address, and finally Joseph Lowery -- a great man who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King -- will deliver the benediction. And the torch will have been passed. The new era will have begun.
As political stagecraft, it's genius. And by announcing Warren's presence well in advance, he gave Netroots bloggers plenty of time to get outraged, and even enough time to let some of their outrage pass.
Meanwhile, some on the right are as apoplectic as the left over Warren's appearance, except for different reasons. Their issue is abortion, which they call murder (and whose banning I call slavery). Being so accustomed to dominance of the public stage, their rhetoric in this case is so over-the-top that it's self-defeating.
Warren may think that by rejecting this nonsense he makes himself bigger, but standing between hate and love only makes you a fool. There is no compromise between hate and love, no way to equivocate. You either practice one or the other. And by trying to stand between them Warren makes enemies on both sides. His movement is further divided, and becomes even-less relevant. This becomes ever-more apparent when Warren is trying to publicly explain himself, like in his "some of my best friends are gay" comment, which came off as just white-gloved racism.
I also think the bile coming from some on the left is important. Many have spent their time coming up with other statements from Warren's past. What they're doing is isolating him further on the right, just as he is isolated from the right. It's good political practice, because it will take a highly-energized left to bring home Obama's program. White-hot anger helped the right get its program through, and it's needed again now.
Meanwhile, where is the President-elect? In Hawaii. Out of the line of fire. Enjoying his family, and some of his closest friends. Having a very Merry Christmas.