Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For those of you who were watching HBO's coverage of Sunday's "We Are One" concert and wondered what happened to Bishop Gene Robinson's opening prayer and what he might have prayed for, I offer the following transcript. The video can be accessed here.

Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God's blessing upon our nation and our next president.

"O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will bless us with tears - tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless this nation with anger - anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort at the easy, simplistic answers we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be fixed anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.
Bless us with humility, open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.
Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance, replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

Bless us with compassion and generosity, remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child, Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for all people. Give him a quiet heart, for our ship of state needs a steady, calm captain.

Give him stirring words; We will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand, that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity, and peace. Amen."


Depending on which story you read, the lack of televised coverage of Bishop Robinson was either a direct snub by Obama's Presidential Inauguration Committee, or an inadvertent confusion between HBO and the PIC. In any event Bishop Robinson's opening prayer will be rebroadcast today during the actual inauguration, not just on TV, but also to the attending throngs. I wish I could be there.

It's hard for me to get really upset about this, whatever it was, treatment of Bishop Gene. It is being rectified. I much prefer to rejoice in the certain knowledge that we are leaving some really really odious stuff behind. Stuff we got used to dealing with and kind of passing off as that's how things are done. To remind us all of how far we have come, I offer the Republican party's treatment of South Carolina Senator Max Cleland. Senator Clelend's seat was up for grabs in 2002 and his seat represented, in the eyes of the Republicans, potential control of the senate.

The usual suspects came out on the offensive, and I mean that in both senses of the words offensive. Here is an article by Matt Givens written in 2004:
We'll get to the loathsome likes of Little Miss Treason (Ann Coulter) shortly, but first let's look at the man she has libeled: Max Cleland.

Cleland lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, wounds that could have destroyed a lesser man. Instead, he not only kept his life together, he made it all the way to the United States Senate. In the fall of 2002, control of Congress hinged on his seat, and the GOP leadership poured its black heart into his defeat. President George Bush visited Georgia five times to campaign against him, and a Republican ad campaign likened Cleland to -- of course -- Osama bin Laden. Old-school Republicans like John McCain and Chuck Hagel, who both served in Vietnam, were appalled. But the new-school Bushies, morals all a-AWOL, were pleased to do whatever it took to pick up Cleland's seat.

Fast-forward 18 months. Today, George W. Bush is scrambling to put a good face on how he spent the Vietnam war. (To recap: States-side, in a cush gig brokered by his daddy just 12 days before he'd have again been eligible for the draft, he learned at taxpayer expense to fly a fighter jet, then announced he wanted to campaign for an Alabama pal of Richard Nixon's, stopped showing up, then declined to provide that embarrassing urine sample and so lost his flight status, then "arranged it with the military" to leave early to go get an M.B.A. Mission accomplished!)

Those asking harsh questions about the President's frivolous relationship with his military duties include Cleland. This is driving the Bush Republicans crazy. After all, it's embarrassing to have a true-blue war hero point out that your guy is a true-blue phony.
So the new strategy is the old strategy: Smear Cleland.
How dare he question our President!
He must be a traitor!

And he's certainly no hero, says Ann Coulter. After a spit-fleckled rant against those who have permitted themselves to question the Great Leader's National Guard service, she says: "If we're going to start delving into exactly who did what back then, maybe Max Cleland should stop allowing Democrats to portray him as a war hero who lost his limbs taking enemy fire on the battlefields of Vietnam.

"Cleland lost three limbs in an accident during a routine non-combat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends. He saw a grenade on the ground and picked it up. He could have done that at Fort Dix. ... Luckily for Cleland's political career and current pomposity about Bush, he happened to do it while in Vietnam. ...

"Cleland ... didn't 'give his limbs for his country,' or leave them 'on the battlefield.' There was no bravery involved in dropping a grenade on himself with no enemy troops in sight."

Coulter's account has already been applauded by someone named Mark Steyn who writes for The Washington Times. "As Ann Coulter pointed out in a merciless but entirely accurate column, it wasn't on the 'battlefield.' It wasn't in combat," Steyn writes. "[Cleland] was working on a radio relay station. He saw a grenade dropped by one of his colleagues and bent down to pick it up. It's impossible for most of us to imagine what that must be like -- to be flown home, with your body shattered, not because of some firefight, but because of a stupid mistake." (The clear implication is that Cleland was stupid enough to blow himself up and has to live with that.) Steyn goes on to say Cleland is happy "to be passed off" as a hero, because that makes him "a more valuable mascot."
* * *
It's hard to know how to continue, because all I want to do is direct an awful string of insults and profanity at Coulter and Steyn.
Instead, I'll just lay out Max Cleland's record.
First of all, Cleland was wounded during the siege of Khe Sanh.
Khe Sanh, for Christ's sake!
I know the smug Bush Republicans are utterly ahistorical, but surely they've heard of Khe Sanh?
Let's help them out.
Here is a fine timeline by PBS of the Vietnam war for 1968. I'll quote a three-month stretch of it here, February, March and April:

February 23, 1968 -- Over 1,300 artillery rounds hit the Marine base at Khe Sanh and its outposts, more than on any previous day of attacks. To withstand the constant assaults, bunkers at Khe Sanh are rebuilt to withstand 82mm mortar rounds.

March 6, 1968 -- While Marines wait for a massive assault, NVA forces retreat into the jungle around Khe Sanh. For the next three weeks, things are relatively quiet around the base.

March 11, 1968 -- Massive search and destroy sweeps are launched against Vietcong remnants around Saigon and other parts of South Vietnam.

March 16, 1968 -- In the hamlet of My Lai, US Charlie Company kills about two hundred civilians. Although only one member of the division is tried and found guilty of war crimes, the repercussions of the atrocity is felt throughout the Army. However rare, such acts undid the benefit of countless hours of civic action by Army units and individual soldiers and raised unsettling questions about the conduct of the war.

March 22, 1968 -- Without warning, a massive North Vietnamese barrage slams into Khe Sanh. More than 1,000 rounds hit the base, at a rate of a hundred every hour. At the same time, electronic sensors around Khe Sanh indicate NVA troop movements. American forces reply with heavy bombing.

April 8, 1968 -- US forces in Operation Pegasus finally retake Route 9, ending the siege of Khe Sanh. A 77-day battle, Khe Sanh had been the biggest single battle of the Vietnam War to that point. The official assessment of the North Vietnamese Army dead is just over 1,600 killed, with two divisions all but annihilated. But thousands more were probably killed by American bombing.

April 8, 1968, was also the day that Captain Max Cleland lost both legs and an arm. He had less than a week earlier already earned commendations for heroism during some of the bloodiest combat of the whole Khe Sanh siege -- combat missions for which he had volunteered, so as to relieve stranded Marines and Army infantry. The order in which the President awarded him the Silver Star reads:

"Captain Cleland distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous action on 4 April 1968, while serving as communications officer of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Calvary during an enemy attack near Khe Sanh, Republic of Vietnam.

"When the battalion command post came under a heavy enemy rocket and mortar attack, Capt. Cleland, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the rocket barrage as he left his covered position to administer first aid to his wounded comrades. He then assisted in moving the injured personnel to covered positions. Continuing to expose himself, Capt. Cleland organized his men into a work party to repair the battalion communications equipment, which had been damaged by enemy fire. His gallant action is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflects great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army."

Here, in a speech he was invited to give about character, is how Cleland himself tells what happened next:

"I remember standing on the edge of the bomb crater that had been my home for five days and five nights, stretching my six-foot, two-inch frame, and becoming caught up in excitement. The battle for Khe Sanh was over, and I had come out of it unhurt and alive! Five terrible days and nights were behind us. In spite of dire predictions, we had held Khe Sanh. I had scored a personal victory over myself and my fears. ... My tour of duty in Vietnam was almost over. In another month I'd be going home. I smiled, thinking of the good times waiting stateside.

"On April 8, 1968, I volunteered for one last mission. The helicopter moved in low. The troops jumped out with M16 rifles in hand as we crouched low to the ground to avoid the helicopter blades. Then I saw the grenade. It was where the chopper had lifted off. It must be mine, I thought. Grenades had fallen off my web gear before. Shifting the M16 to my left hand and holding it behind me, I bent down to pick up the grenade.

"A blinding explosion threw me backwards."

Ann Coulter, the facts be damned, calls this "a routine non-combat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends," and says "there was no bravery involved." Mark Steyn says Cleland is happy "to be passed off" as a hero. And both, incredibly, characterize Cleland's wounds as good fortune.

But just because these two hacks think losing limbs to advance their Republican political careers would be a lucky trade -- hell, they've already given away their souls, what's an arm or a leg? -- doesn't mean the rest of us share their warped priorities.
I mean, Khe Sanh!

I am so thankful this kind of character assassination will no longer be part of our incumbent government under Barack Obama. President Obama will make mistakes, but he's already shown his willingness to try and correct them. As far as I've been able to tell, no official apology was ever extended to Max Cleland. He was defeated by Saxby Chambliss in 2002.

Now I'm off to watch the inauguration. There's a perverse part of me that will be waiting with some anticipation for the prayer offered by Rick Warren. Just to see if he's gotten the message that Bishop Robinson made so clear. We, the people of the United States of America, have called Barack Obama to be president because WE WANT CHANGE.

PS: The sweat was fantastic and the prayers offered meaningful in the extreme. The operative feeling was one of hope and solidarity by everyone for everyone--Black, White, Native, liberal or conservative, gay or straight. We were truly one like we had never been before. I am jacked.


  1. Colleen, thank you for the sweat lodge ceremony (I say that because I'm confident we will all benefit from this spiritual exercise to support the new administration).

    I'm also grateful for the good transcript of Bishop Robinson's prayer yesterday. I hope it did get broadcast today.

  2. Bill, I never did see Rick Warren. I turned the tube on too late.

    Rev Lowery was wonderful. How can you not love that man.

    Great day for the world, not just US.