President-elect Barack Obama continues to show evidence that he will keep his promise about reaching across the aisle to include Republican and conservative interests whenever he sees fit. Robert Gates is staying on at Defense; and the CIA chief and the head of U.S. Central Command are staying put for now, too. Continuity in these critical positions during a war - even a war Obama opposes- is wise.
Obama will also tap Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL) to be Secretary of Transportation. LaHood has served in Congress for 14 years and also served a term in the Illinois Legislature. He was the longtime Chief of Staff to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel. LaHood knows his way around Washington and Illinois, which is one of the most critical transportation states in the nation. So, he’s a good choice.
The bipartisan back slapping for Obama apparently stops here: Obama has invited the Rev. Rick Warren to say prayers at his inauguration. This has infuriated many liberals and gay rights advocates because Warren is fairly conservative and opposes gay marriage.
At a press conference today in Chicago, Obama told reporters that America needs to come together even when there's disagreement on social issues. "That dialogue is part of what my campaign is all about," he said.
Gay rights groups disagree. “We feel a deep level of disrespect when one of the architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination," the Human Rights Campaign said in a letter to Obama, asking him to reconsider.
Warren openly supported California Proposition 8, which imposed a Constitutional ban on gay marriage. While Obama believes marriage is only between a man and a woman, he opposed Proposition 8, saying it was wrong to remove rights that were already granted by the courts. Other than the gay marriage issue, the two men are miles apart on gay rights in general. So, should that disqualify Warren from saying prayers at the Inauguration? The answer is "yes," only if you believe in a single-issue political agenda.
Obama strikes me as someone who is trying to find common ground on some issues, especially at a time when the nation is in so much economic trouble. He’s going to need the support of varying factions if he’s to succeed overall. He is at least trying to reach out to Evangelicals by inviting Rev. Warren.
Warren and Obama are both popular - despite their differences - because followers view them as passionate leaders. They are men committed to their words, according to followers. Obama knows he may need the support of Warren’s followers on some issues. Obama desires to seek their common ground.
What issues do they share in common? Africa, for one. Warren and his Saddleback Church in Southern California have given millions to African relief, especially for children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. Africa was a priority for the past two U.S. Presidents, and Obama is planning to carry on with that mission. And let’s be clear here. Part of this is borne of faith-driven compassion, and part of it is for national security. If any of the African nations devastated by AIDS fall to terrorist regimes, then that region and the rest of the free world are in even more danger.
Warren invited Obama to speak at his church, realizing the importance of putting forth diverse views in a democracy. Obama and John McCain later returned to participate in an election forum moderated by Warren. At the very least, Obama is returning the courtesy of those invitations; but I believe he is doing more by reaching across the aisle.
He should be commended for it, not castigated.
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