Obama Shows How to Defang the Christian Right in a Week

His invitations to Rick Warren and James Dobson mean it's hard to paint him as a lefty bogeyman.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Is it just me, or in the course of the last week has Barack Obama pretty masterfully neutralized the Christian right campaign to paint him as a lefty bogeyman?

Consider:

1. The president-elect's invitation to Rick Warren, the most influential evangelical in the nation, to give the invocation at his inauguration, and Obama's decision to firmly stand by the choice even after the outcry it generated among gays and on the left.

2. Obama's invitation to James Dobson's Focus on the Family, the nation's most politically powerful evangelical concern, to participate in a national day of service.

3. The high marks Obama has been receiving this week from traditional Christian right leaders. Check out the interview that Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson gave to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux yesterday (transcript courtesy of the Huffington Post):

MALVEAUX: Are you looking forward to an Obama administration? A change?

ROBERTSON: I am remarkably pleased with Obama. I had grave misgivings about him. But so help me, he's come in forcefully, intelligently. He's picked a middle of the road cabinet. And so far, if he continues down this course, he has the makings of a great president . . . I'm very pleased so far.

Compare that with Robertson's take on George W. Bush:

ROBERTSON: Well, it's hard to assess blame, but I—over the years—I hate to be critical, I mean I am a Republican, and this is the president of the party that I'm a member of—but I think we've had some serious goofs along the way. The Katrina matter was terrible. The rebuilding of Iraq has been terrible. The hailing of the economy right now has been terrible. It hasn't been handled in what I would consider a professional manner.

MALVEAUX: How would you grade the president in light of all of the—the laundry list that you just listed there?

ROBERTSON: Well you know, history may accord him a higher grade than his contemporaries and I think he's hoping for that, and we are. But I believe I would look at about a C-minus right now if I were grading him.

And check out the very conservative Rev. Franklin Graham giving Obama some props in a new interview at Christianity Today's web site:

The people on the left are not going to support any relationship with people on the other side. Barack Obama has shown he's going to reach across these boundaries. He is including evangelicals at his inauguration, but I don't know if he'll include them in his administration. Time will tell. But Rick Warren will have Obama's ear on important issues.

For a culture warrior like Graham, that's a rousing Obama endorsement. The Christian right has got to be strategizing about how to counter Obama's evangelical charm offensive. At the moment, Obama appears to have largely defanged the movement.