Meet the new boss…

…(hopefully not) the same as the old boss.  Despite the waves of adulation for our new President still washing over the land, it seems appropriate to quote the lyrics of the classic song by The Who:

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

Don’t get me wrong: Barack Obama has a better chance at success (and at doing the kinds of things the secular community wants) than Senator John McCain, and it will be almost impossible for him to do worse than his predecessor.  Obama is a self-made man who rose up from less-than-ideal circumstances.  In many ways he’s like Bill Clinton without the benefit of white male privilege; he’s well-traveled, charming, and educated by the nation’s best universities.

But… to quote Henry David Thoreau, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”  In other words, put your money where your mouth is.  Obama has shown spectacular talent in getting elected, but that’s about it.  He had no legislative or executive record to run on, and those who voted for him did so in the hopes that this obviously very intelligent and thoughtful man could make good on his promises.  It remains to be seen whether or not Obama can translate his talent at electoral politics into success with international diplomacy and executive-legislative relations.

The secular community is all abuzz that “we got a mention” in Obama’s inaugural address: “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.”  Center for Inquiry’s Paul Kurtz waxed rhapsodic in a hasty press release, calling the mention “a historic and remarkable achievement of significance.”  There’s a suggestion circulating on message boards to send letters to the president, thanking him for recognizing “non-believers” and encouraging him to do the right thing with respect to separation of church and state.

Well, excuse me if I don’t share this breathless enthusiasm.  A mention is nice (and it’s not hard to imagine him doing this as tribute to his agnostic/atheist mother), but a two-word bone tossed in at the end of a religious laundry list is hardly recompense for the bales and bushels of pandering Obama has shoveled out for the last two years.  He has promised not to cancel faith-based initiatives, but to expand them.  He’s nattered on about God and Jesus frequently and regularly.  He, along with running mate Joe Biden, sold gays down the river with his refusal to support marriage rights for homosexuals (granted, this may have been a strategic decision – campaign calculus dictates that supporting gay rights is, overall, a vote-loser).  But he followed up his statements on gay rights by inviting Rick Warren, one of the key figures who supported California’s Prop 8, to play a center-stage role in the inauguration.  One is tempted to make excuses in the case of Warren, arguing that it’s a public fig leaf to conservatives, and that Obama “doesn’t really mean it.”  But what does it say about the man that he choses prosperity baloney peddler T. D. Jakes to preach at a private church service on inauguration morning?  Obama also repeated that old conservative hogwash in his inaugural address that our human rights come from God.  (And if that’s not enough, as I’m typing this I hear that Obama is attending yet another prayer service on his first full day in office, this one at the so-called National Cathedral!)

The best we can say about Obama’s religious views is that he skews away from the obnoxious Dominionism and more toward the call to good deeds and social awareness.  Still, it is a troubling and peculiar characteristic of our new president, and it remains to be seen if it was all just posturing to get elected, or if he really believes that charlatans like Jakes and Warren have anything substantive to say. 

[I am also unsettled by the cult of personality that seems to be developing around Barack Obama.  I’ll grant you he seems like a great guy, but when millions of people at a presidential inauguration chant “O! ba! ma!” instead of “U! S! A!” it makes you wonder.  If Obama screws up, or yields to the temptation of corruption, will these same people make excuses for him and put their blinders on, or will they hold his feet to the fire?]

Nonetheless… while it may seem I’m being overly negative, I am cautiously optimistic.  Obama has promised a number of things that warm the cockles of (mostly left-leaning) secularists, including a pledge to “restore science to its rightful place” (whatever that means – every president talks about respect for science, yadda blah etc., but what matters is actions, not words).  I can’t help but be eminently cynical when it comes to politics.  I have lived too long, repeatedly expecting so much and getting the exact opposite, to totally buy into the dream that President Obama will truly do the right thing, fix the nations’s problems, and make us all warm and fuzzy inside.

So, yes, it was a historic and uplifting day for America.  But now it’s back to reality.  We should all extend our best wishes to President Obama; at the same time, we can’t be lulled into thinking all our troubles are over.  We must continue to work for a secular society and remain ever vigilant of the actions of our public servants.

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