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Television and Abortion: Two Shows, Two Different Paths January 22, 2010

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Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

Two broadcast television series this week featured prominent narratives on teenage pregnancy and abortion. A rare coincidence, indeed — or perhaps not, giving it’s the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. In Private Practice (“Best Laid Plans“), a rich black family’s 15-year-old daughter, Maya, gets pregnant and grapples with having the procedure. In Friday Night Lights (“I Can’t“), Becky, a minor but regular character, is a working class sophomore in high school also dealing with the same issue, albeit with much less parental guidance (her single mother).

Both shows, in my opinion, feature good storytelling and try to do justice to this difficult issue, in ways that suggest networks are finally moving forward on an issue still most famously explored in 1972 in an episode of Maude (later again on Roseanne).

Television (film too) is infamous for its silence on abortion. If a character gets pregnant, it’s an easy bet she’ll have it. So ironclad is the pregnancy rule it ruins all the drama from the plot point. Pregnancy = baby. Major characters rarely even discuss it (Sex and the City, season 4 did); “abortion women” leave shows quickly. Even adoption is rarely broached. So both Friday Night Lights and Private Practice deserve credit for even using the “A” word, several times, and actually dealing with the issue head-on.

The shows take two different paths. Yes, unbelievably, on broadcast television, a character actually goes through with the procedure.

(more…)

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Did “The Wire” Presage Politics Post-2008? January 20, 2010

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Thanks to Racialicious for reposting this!

Get ready for reason #573 why The Wire was the best television show of the aughts. In the wake of Scott Brown’s upset in the Massachusetts special election for the U.S. Senate, I’ve been thinking a lot about the cycle of politics. I’ve been a pretty steady proponent of the politics of idealism and, borrowing from Tony Kushner, the ethical responsibility to hope, but the aftermath of Martha Coakley’s defeat may test my resolve. Where can I find the blueprint for my incipient cynicism? The Wire, of course!

The Wire‘s central thesis was simple: short-term politics and the quest for power kills long-term progress and social justice. From gangs to government, the media to schools, the same rule applies. Everyone, sadly, violates the rule. They think about themselves and the system never gets fixed. This is the fundamental cynicism of The Wire: it perfectly diagnoses how groups and institutions kill hope.

But it appears Washington has few Wire fans. (more…)

“Invictus” and the Politics of Idealism December 12, 2009

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I tend to avoid in films what we see in Invictus: rugby, sports, Matt Damon, Morgan-Freeman-as-Deity-figure, sports, and Clint Eastwood. I should be ashamed of avoiding Eastwood, but his recent films have often been marketed as morally simplistic (and his Republicanism doesn’t help): we know with whom we are supposed to identify and who is evil (exceptions might be Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima). Yet Eastwood’s films are majestic, regal, and magnanimous.

Invictus is, in fact, morally simplistic: we root for South Africa and deify Mandela. But it’s nonetheless an important meditation on the politics of idealism, a film particularly relevant for Americans right now, especially progressives trying to make sense of the 2008 election. Invictus shows us idealism, even amidst mounting reasons for pessimism, is necessary.

(more…)

“V” From Fascists (1983) to Obama (2009) November 24, 2009

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V airs its winter finale tonight before resuming episodes in March 2010.

If you haven’t seen ABC’s V yet, I’ll spoil it for you: the Vs symbolize President Obama. Countless articles have spelled it out: io9, Chicago Tribune, BreitBart, and Entertainment Weekly, among many others, have already foregrounded the debate.

It’s very obvious. In the first episode, we learn that the Visitors bring hope and promise change; they’re all attractive; they have a sleekly designed spaceship (and probably a nice website too); they’ve got young people excited about the movement; they are of peace in a world racked by war; they come at time when we need them most; they’re a global phenomenon; the press is in their pocket; they are God-like and pose a serious threat to Christianity; most obvious of all, they want to bring “universal healthcare” and “clean sustainable energy.” This should all sound painfully obvious, unless you slept through 2008.  What’s the problem, then? Well, underneath it all, the Vs are reptiles who want to eat and destroy us!

There’s just one wrinkle in this theory: V is a series based on a NBC miniseries of the same name written and released during the presidency of conservative icon Ronald Reagan!

If we see V as an anti-Obama series now, what was it back then?

(more…)

Rethinking “Post-Racial” November 20, 2009

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Organizing for America | BarackObama.com_1256938818070

I’d originally planned to do reams and reams of reading on this, and an extensive literature review, but I’m so busy writing, curating, filming, editing and researching other things I won’t get to it for another year, and I don’t want to cite some theories and miss others. Eventually I will have to do a full lit review on this, tying in key works from the critical race theory, etc., for my dissertation. When that happens, I’ll update or redo this post.

The subject has been bothering me to such a degree that if I don’t write it now, I’ll implode.

Now the question:

What does “post-racial” mean and why must we move past it? Come take a ride with me…

(more…)

“Ugly Betty” Inspires Michelle Obama? November 7, 2009

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michelle_obama_moschino

Michelle Obama in Moschino at the Department of Energy Thursday Nov. 5th.

The Wiener, the Bun, and the Boob - Watch the full episode now._1257569563567

Betty Suarez (America Ferrara) in Moschino, October 30th

The Wiener, the Bun, and the Boob - Watch the full episode now._1257569550284The Wiener, the Bun, and the Boob - Watch the full episode now._1257569528880

I don’t normally do fashion, but I love it when two of my favorite things come together! Michelle Obama wore a Moschino jacket while visiting the Department of Energy for the National Science Bowl.

I noticed the jacket from the fourth episode of this season (the fourth, and, likely, last) of Ugly Betty (“The Wiener, The Bun and The Boob,” October 30th)! Betty, or rather, Patricia Field, Mrs.O’ed the jacket with a broach and pop of color. Clearly Michelle Obama decided to go understated and let the jacket, a playful riff off Chanel, stand out for itself.

Fashion synergy! (more…)

Copying Obama: The Aeshetics of Hope October 30, 2009

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Organizing for America | BarackObama.com_1256938818070

thompson-obama

font-israeli-obama

anthonywoods

James Perry obama

Above: Screengrab from BarackObama.com; Bill Thompson, running for Mayor of New York this week on Nov. 3rd; Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2008 campaign page; Anthony Woods, who lost his campaign for Congressional House district, CA-10; James Perry, running for mayor of New Orleans in 2010. Any that I’m missing?

The issue of websites borrowing, um, liberally from the aesthetics of Barack Obama’s website is an old one, becoming painfully obvious last year when Benjamin Netanyahu’s website became public, mimicry so shameless, the campaign didn’t bother playing coy:

“Imitation is the greatest form of flattery,” noted Ron Dermer, one of Mr. Netanyahu’s top campaign advisers. “We’re all in the same business, so we took a close look at a guy who has been the most successful and tried to learn from him. And while we will not use the word ‘change’ in the same way in our campaign, we believe Netanyahu is the real candidate of change for Israel.”

I’ve noticed a number of campaign websites since, especially for black candidates, who also use either the same fonts, color schemes or tone of the Obama homepage.

This all makes sense: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. While Obama’s poll numbers are down since his atmospheric — and completely unsustainable — post-inauguration highs, he stills remains popular (Gallup has him holding steady at slightly above 50%, for now), especially in the black community. (more…)

TV: Naughty Republicans: Rich (Mad Men) and Poor (True Blood) September 8, 2009

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large_maryann party

Maryann, who, in her boho dresses, looks like a kind of modern-day hippie, has come to Bon Temps to shake the puritanical hicks out of their conservatism!

Everyone who follows television is tripping out over the stunning success of HBO’s True Blood, and even I, as a fan, am rather stunned. Consider this: when True Blood premiered last year it garnered 1.44 million viewers, leaving industry watchers to once again proclaim that HBO had lost its mojo. Last week’s episode, in advance of the season two finale, received 5.2 million viewers (the season high was the week before at 5.3). It stands to be HBO’s most successful show since The Sopranos and Sex and the City. Plus, name one television show in the past five years that’s seen that kind of growth! (It’s a sign to all networks, cable and network, that not every show that starts weak ends weak).

Why has True Blood been rising so fast?  The main reasons are pretty clear: OnDemand viewings in advance of season two (bored summer TV fans like myself needed something to watch) and DVD sales (powered by word of mouth) are the biggest drivers. The ratings had been rising all throughout the first season too, which suggests the show’s narrative strategies — and constant replays — including campy, over-the-top acting, surprise endings, and bloodsport are all drivers.

I’d add another though: schadenfreude. The thematic/ideological appeal of True Blood is watching the South crumble amidst its own morality and ignorance. Remember, HBO viewers are slightly wealthier and more liberal than your average TV viewer, with concentrations in cities and suburbs. True Blood plays up the hick factor with exaggerated accents and its country setting. Sookie, our heroine, is the pure Southern virgin — how many outfits in white can a girl have? — consistently defiled by miscegenation, lawlessness, outsiders and predatory men of the European nature (vampire style in True Blood is pure euro trash; we saw this at the vamp party for Godric in Texas. Many of the vampires actually are Europeans, with strong accents and second languages).

This theme was pretty soft in the first season, focused as it was on Sookie’s relationship with Bill. But the arrival of Maryann, a hedonistic Greek god in the vain of Dionysus, has made this all the more clear. Watching the wholesome Southern town driven to wild sex, drugs, violence and sodomy by a beguiling outsider is eye candy for liberal onlookers. It’s as if those birther/deather, I-don’t-want-Obama-talking-to-my-kids, anti-gay conservatives were suddenly forced, through hypnosis, to do all they decry publicly (and perhaps do privately).

Bon Temps, True Blood‘s central town, is behind the times. The presence of a vampire public relations effort — appearing on shows like Bill Maher and cable news — is a sign that the nation’s most liberal centers have already gotten down with vampires. True Blood doesn’t give us polls, but it’s possible a majority of the country is fine with vampires having equal rights, just as the majority of country, when asked proper questions, wants universal healthcare and is fine with Barack Obama talking to their kids. Bon Temps, Louisiana, we assume, is an island of ignorance, one of those places just a few years behind everywhere else.

Roger-Sterling-Blackface

Roger Sterling, aging Republican and a partner in Mad Men's ad agency, performs blackface for his new younger lover.

Can we see this schadenfreude dynamic in another hot cable television series? I’d posit Mad Men as well.

First: schadenfreude is not the primary appeal of Mad Men. I’ve been clear that the show’s plotting and its patience with its characters are the key drivers: the show is grown-up (and very pretty).

However, it’s becoming ever more clear as the show advances into the sixties that the people we are watching are nowhere near the images most of us have of the early sixties. Says New York Magazine on episode 4, season two:

But to be fair, think of how much is going on that doesn’t even enter the universe of these white people. By this time, George Wallace, promising “segregation forever,” has been elected governor of Alabama, and Bull Connor has turned the fire hoses on protesters. Sylvia Plath has committed suicide (hello, Peggy). Amid race riots and bombings, Martin Luther King Jr. has written his famous “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.” Meanwhile, the Sterling Cooper gang is twittering over jai a’lai and Bye Bye Birdie. The show’s taken pains to show that a whole generation didn’t suddenly turn on, tune in, and drop out. Young guys like Pete were conservatives till the end, joining groups like the nascent, Ronald Reagan–supporting Young Americans for Freedom.

The show deftly illustrates changes in the role of women — for example this week’s episode subtly suggested how the young Sally Draper might see her mother, the image-obsessed and domestic Betty, as a relic, and grow up to be quite the force to be reckoned with in the 70s and 80s. And it eludes to racial difference here and there. But the people in the show are quite clearly far away from the riots, Martin Luther King Jr. and any other notions of social progress. The tension in the show is building as these characters stay more and more entrenched in the 1950s while the world presses forward. The question — and drama and intrigue — is: will they and their worlds change? The sad fact is maybe no. There are still worlds like that today, rich conservative worlds where such things as poverty and strife have no place in the conversation. In fact, the writers of Mad Men have to delicately navigate the world of rich Republicans they have cultivated and not thrust liberals in there too quickly or hastily. The appeal of the show is this claustrophobic nature; it’s not the 60s we know, thank God (how boring would that be?!). Its delusions and tragedies — like the red-haired Joan, who missed feminism by a few years — are a result not only of its character’s personal flaws but also of the conservative environments in which they must reside.

The ratings for Mad Men are good, though incomparable to that of other networks, since AMC is mostly a channel of old movies. The lower ratings (lately, around 1.6 million on Sunday) is partially attributable to the show’s intellectual nature. Still, you can bet a large portion of the show’s viewers are the same enlightened liberals, just smarter, looking down at the tattered jewelry box of drama the writers of Mad Men have created and saying, “how sad and old, and yet, how pretty and dramatic.”*

Recently the show has been laying this theme on thick, with references to the decline of the Roman Empire and Eliot (“this is the way the world ends…not with a bang but with a whimper.”) If True Blood is about the death of the South — their decreased electoral power, growing irrelevance in policy debates — Mad Men purports to be a world that has already died — of white men in smoky rooms, with separate bank accounts and city lovers, of women who don’t want to or can’t work. But is that true?

*I’m sure, however, that the show’s commentary on its characters is missed on some, who enjoy it for its drama and stylish veneer.

TV: Rage Against the Doctors July 1, 2009

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Three new medically-themed shows arrive at just the right cultural moment. [Nurse Jackie (Grade: A-), Royal Pains (Grade: B), HawthoRNe (Grade: C+)]

nurse_jackie

Americans hate journalists and bankers. As a journalist whose best friend is a banker, this sometimes gets under my skin. But it makes perfect sense, and far be it for me to begrudge someone their hate.

Medical professionals, on the other hand, get lots of respect. Nurses, according to some polls, are the most beloved of our nation’s workers. They are caring and make us feel better but don’t make the controversial calls or handle the billing. Doctors are highly rated too, but if you’ve been watching cable television this summer, you might not think so.

At least three shows, all breakout hits, explore how doctors and hospitals are terrible for healthcare, while nurses can do no—or very little—wrong. ER and Grey’s Anatomy these are not. No wonder cable is so hot right now.

Nurse Jackie, my favorite of the shows, follows the travails of Jackie (Edie Falco), a nurse who always knows better. Falco’s Jackie is crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, like the best of pastries. She abuses prescription drugs and cheats on her husband, but she is also an attentive mother, and, most importantly, very caring toward her patients, almost maternally so. She knows what to do before the doctors do. Meanwhile, the doctors are either childish pricks (Peter Facinelli’s Dr. Cooper) or overprivileged ice queens (Eve Best’s Dr. Elenor O’Hara). If they’re right, they are cold and uncaring to their patients; and then of course, they are wrong sometimes too. Right or wrong, they are jerks to the nice nurses. It’s a fun show, made better by the casting of super sexy Haaz Sleiman as a gay nurse.

The anti-doctor motif is a solid formula for Nurse Jackie, which Showtime has already renewed, making it another strong addition to the channel’s already solid lineup.

Another breakout is HawthoRNe, Jada Pinkett-Smith’s comeback show about another nurse, Christina Hawthorne, who is similarly amazing at her job. Like Jackie, Christina has a fatal flaw: a mistake she made caused her husband death. HawthoRNe plays with the same themes. Doctors are off playing golf instead of helping patients or make the wrong calls and then blame the nurses. The hospital bureaucracy blames nurses first and doctors later, meaning Christina’s job is harder to do and less prestigious. Less edgy than Nurse Jackie, HawthoRNe is less fun, an awkward compromise between network (think ER) and pay-cable aesthetics.

Yet by far this summer’s most surprising hit is Royal Pains, USA’s Mark Feuerstein starrer about an accomplished emergency room doctor fired for letting a billionaire hospital trustee die while saving a no-name black kid. A doctor we like, you wonder? Yes, we do like Feuerstein’s Hank Lawson, but only because he works outside the hospital system. Despite treating insanely rich Hamptons clients, Hank is noble because he has cut out the bureaucracy and the politics, getting to the heart of the problem without long lines or red tape (though he’s been known to use duct tape). His helpful associate, a super-nurse played by Reshma Shetty, is equally lovable and capable.

Why all the hate for doctors and hospitals? Cable networks simply got lucky and hit the right note at the right time. In our current healthcare battle, doctors are fast becoming the arch enemy. Most Americans are in favor of a government-run healthcare plan, but the American Medical Association, because doctors get less money for government patients, are vigorous opponents and have been for decades. It’s the kind of self-interest that is putting doctors in league with drug companies, who fear the government using its buying power to purchase drugs at lower prices, and insurers, who fear the loss of business if people flock to a public option. Already, stories are surfacing of doctors over-treating not only to protect their backsides but also to make more money. In a recent New Yorker article Atul Gawande wrote that hospitals “know that if their doctors bring in enough business—surgery, imaging, home-nursing referrals—they make money; and if they get the doctors to bring in more, they make more.” It gets worse: “Then there are the physicians who see their practice primarily as a revenue stream…They figure out ways to increase their high-margin work and decrease their low-margin work. This is a business, after all.”

In this context the stunning success of HawthoRNeRoyal Pains and Nurse Jackie make sense. Divorced from the revenue stream, nurses and independent doctors seem altruistic. It’s no surprise most nurses’ associations support either a single-payer or some other public healthcare option.

The lesson? Maybe this summer Congress should be watching more cable TV.

YOUTUBE: Project: Mr. RED April 11, 2009

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In these projects I assume the identity a particular political slant and perform it.

RED: Left/Socialist

GREEN: Capitalist/Libertarian

BLUE: Right/Zealous

WHITE: Whatever I feel like.

POLITICS: The Cure for Clintonitis January 22, 2009

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The Cure for Clintonitis

Obamapride_large

 

Photo by justinfeed

Quit girding yourself for disappointment, liberals, and wait a little while to judge the new Chief.

By Aymar Jean Christian

I went to D.C. for the Inauguration because I like controlled mass hysteria. I didn’t go to see anything (I watched it on a giant TV like everyone else) but to be around other people who were going absolutely Obama-crazy. It was a magical experience, and I got just a little hysterical.

Now it’s day two and it’s time to bitch! Well not really. It’s still too early to bitch. No one is so cynical as to begrudge Obama at least a half-week holiday. Besides, polls seem to indicate Obama may be the most popular newly-elected president since Kennedy, so who could be pissed?

Still, I sense the grumblings already, including from so-called unnamed “liberals,” according to CNN, who might already be concerned Obama isn’t moving fast enough on an Iraq withdrawal. Combine this with Rachel Maddow still grumbling about Warren’s bland invocation on Tuesday, and you have the beginnings of an inevitable liberal backlash. I adore Maddow. She is probably my second favorite person on the political scene right now. But she’s being silly. 

I think the problem is liberals are still suffering from Clintonitis, defined as the pain of being a Democrat and getting punched in the face at least once a year through left-sanctioned “compromises” like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. After eight years of hardline conservative rule, liberals are uppity and defensive. They still accept the supposed truism that America is a “center-right” country. Oh yeah? Let’s transport back to the 1930s and 1960s and test that thesis out.

Everyone is anxious for the first Obama betrayal. What will it be? Iraq? Gay rights? The stimulus bill? The signs are everywhere. Already Obama has said he will “consult” with military advisors about the Iraq timeline. Then there’s Rick Warren. And of course those tax cuts and rebates in the stimulus package. Some of these will be problems for liberals, and some of them are Clintonitis. On one hand, a commander-in-chief cannot stick to a strict 16-month withdrawal plan—that’s an estimate at best. Yes, tax cuts are a Bush policy and the last rebate was completely unsuccessful, but the bill is far from signed.

It is important for everyone in America to realize right now Obama is not the triangulating Clinton. Remember, a Clinton actually lost an election this year. This is a different time and a different politician. Obama’s politics are about reaching across the aisle for things that are less significant—say, an invocation—as a way to neutralize discontent when he refuses to compromise on more important issues, like Iraq. This is very different from openly defying and even pissing off the left for political gain—poor Sista Souljah!—as Maddow accused Obama of with Warren. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, DoMA, welfare reform and many other Clinton policies were political compromises almost explicitly crafted to scorn the left. But let’s remember at least two of those are already on Obama’s chopping block. 

I hope I don’t keep reading new reports about the left being worried about a potential Obama betrayal. How about waiting for an actual one? Obama has 100 days to enact gutsy, important legislation. I will judge him based on that. Tuesday was my last day of hysteria for at least four years.

 

POLITICS: Stupid Outrage December 23, 2008

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I don’t normally write about politics, but I think the outrage at the choice of Rick Warren, who has reached out to Muslims and advocated for Christians to move on climate change and poverty, is ridiculous. Warren is enormously popular among Christians; the left should want Christians in their movement.

Stupid Outrage

http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/rock-warren-was-a-good-pick

Aymar Jean Christian

To all outraged “progressives,” gay or otherwise: what would you rather have Obama do?

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I’m not going to defend Rick Warren; well, not too much. I am going to defend Barack Obama, at the risk of looking like a hack to my friends and colleagues.

There are many reasons why the controversy over Obama’s selection of Warren to perform the inaugural invocation is stupid. I plan to list every single one of them.

First, the invocation is ceremonial. It’s publicity, theater, a show; to the cynical, it’s marketing. It isn’t policy. It won’t change anyone’s life. So, as a sometimes-angry gay, I’m going to take a deep breath and calm down. You should too. I know gays are mad at Obama for not being pro-marriage and for saying repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is not at the top of his list (with a Depression imminent, should it be? C’mon, gays!) Let’s at least wait until after January before getting all hot and bothered about Obama’s screwing us over. You know, when he’s actually doing something.

Second, as publicity, it’s not half bad. Since 2004 Obama has talked about ending the blue state/red state divide. Are people really surprised by this? The hoopla over Warren shows that message needs to be restated, because the divide persists. People in the media must have no idea how popular Warren is. Even my Obama-loving mother owns his book, The Purpose Driven Life, which is one of the most popular Christian books in America after that other popular Christian book: the Bible. Purpose Driven Life is  Warren’s real claim to fame—not his anti-gay views—and the book is not hateful. It’s Christian self-help. It’s bland, but powerful to whose believe.

Third. Okay, so Rick Warren opposes gay marriage—who cares? Most people do. Rick Warren is pro-life and in many other ways a social conservative. So what? A lot of people are. Yes, the indefensible part is his disapproval of gays as people who are undeserving of God. Yes, it’s bad. But, while this is a minority view, it’s a view held by people who are still Americans, and not Obama voters (how soon we forget that McCain over-performed in the south and Appalachia, with the exception of NC and VA). Obama is reaching out, and good for him. I hate how liberals simply dismiss the religious right as morons; it’s like we want to be irrelevant. Please, please ignore us America! 

Obama is doing his job. He’s saying to the country: I want to be the president of all of you, not just the ones who agree with me. This is the mistake Hillary Clinton—and a lot of Boomers—made when she ran healthcare reform in 1992. It was “us” versus “them.” That’s not a winning formula if you want to pass important legislation by solid margins. It is only a good strategy if, like the Bush administration, you want to barely pass terrible legislation. 

Fourth, any attempt to imply an Obama policy shift from the Warren selection is pure hypocrisy from the left, who argued against Rev. Wright as a relevant campaign topic. I honestly don’t think Obama agrees with Wright on what black politics should look like, and I don’t think he agrees with Warren. But what kind of world do we live in if we can’t accept a prayer from someone different from us? How cynical and angry have we become?

Finally, while Rick Warren’s views are in many ways retrograde, he is not a James Dobson, Jerry Falwell or Paul Weyrich. He’s not a doctrinaire conservative. His work on emphasizing poverty, inequality, and climate change is not insignificant. It shouldn’t be dismissed in a short sentence, as the media has done over the past week. Warren is trying to move the Moral Majority forward on exactly the critical issues Obama will need to act on fast. Our world is dying. Our economy is unfair, unequal and going south. Forgive me if I forget Rick Warren isn’t too fond of gay marriage.

I’m willing to take Obama to task when the time is right. If he never acts on gay non-discrimination, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Defense of Marriage Act, I will get up in arms like all the rest. But the Warren pick isn’t anything but a gesture, a signal that he’s not Bush. Obama is not going to push his own agenda, Rove-style, while forgetting nearly half the country didn’t vote for him. Isn’t that, at least for now, exactly what we need to hear?