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Monday, August 16, 2010

Reactions to President Obama's Friday Statement

Future location of Cordoba HouseI'm in danger of becoming "Ground Zero mosque" central. I've written three posts about it over the weekend and here I am writing one more. Since President Obama's statement on the subject was on Friday, a lot of people simmered over the weekend waiting to write about it. Now that it's Monday, the simmering is over and it's time to serve.

A good place to start would be at the very beginning. Luckily,'s Justin Elliott goes all the way back to the time that no one cared about Cordoba House (yes, that time actually existed) and tracks the timeline from local news story to manufactured national outrage. The short version of this story is that Islamophobic wingnut blogger Pam Geller is a very useless and awful person. May history remember her jerkitude.

Another piece worth reading is by TIME's Mark Halperin. In "Obama's Islamic-Center Stance: Why the GOP Shouldn't Run Against It," Halperin spells out how Republicans could take advantage of Obama's support of the First Amendment to fearmonger their way to bigger wins in November. Obama's statement on Cordoba House "opened the door so wide that walking through it will be effortless," he writes. But then continues:

But please don't do it. There are a handful of good reasons to oppose allowing the Islamic center to be built so close to Ground Zero, particularly the family opposition and the availability of other, less raw locations. But what is happening now -- the misinformation about the center and its supporters; the open declarations of war on Islam on talk radio, the Internet and other forums; the painful divisions propelled by all the overheated rhetoric -- is not worth whatever political gain your party might achieve.

It isn't clear how the battle over the proposed center should or will end. But two things are profoundly clear: Republicans have a strong chance to win the midterm elections without picking a fight over President Obama's measured words. And a national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner -- the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy.

In short, there's every logical and moral reason not to stoke the fires of intolerance and hatred for short-term political gain. Greg Sargent remarks, "Kudos to Mark Halperin for calling on the GOP to 'do the right thing' and refrain from using Obama's mosque speech as a weapon," while Steve Benen is a lot less optimistic.

"I would genuinely love to be proven wrong," Benen writes, "but waiting for GOP integrity invariably leads to crushing disappointment." Early indicators show Benen's pessimism to be well-founded, as an earlier post he wrote shows Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn signaling that pouring gas on this particular fire is something the GOP is more than willing to do.

At the Republican media's "serious" site, National Review Online, Josh Barro demonstrates how Republican demagoguery on the issue will wind up turning off the more civil libertarian and foreign policy-minded conservatives.

If it were generally the case that Muslims are being welcomed into our communities, and allowed to build their houses of worship without public hostility, then it would be possible to condemn the Cordoba House’s site without worrying about alienating and excluding Muslims generally. But unfortunately the complaints about Cordoba House are just the highest-profile example of a wish that Muslims would stay out of our neighborhoods -- the trouble being that everywhere is somebody’s neighborhood.

In addition to being morally objectionable, undermining the integration and acceptance of Muslims in American society is a huge strategic error. Newt Gingrich doesn’t want mosques in Lower Manhattan until churches are allowed in Mecca -- making the bizarre case that our level of religious liberty is fine so long as it is no worse than in Saudi Arabia. But Cordoba House presents an opportunity to show how we are better than Saudis -- and that it is no skin off our back when mosques are built in America, even in the Financial District of Manhattan.

If I were you, however, I wouldn't hold my breath until people like Barro start getting the headlines that idiots like Gingrich get. As always, conflict sells ad time for ShamWow, so voices of reason -- no matter which side of the aisle they come from -- are likely to be pushed aside in favor of Sarah Palin's latest incoherent tweet.

And, of course, President Obama seems to have undercut his own statement -- at least a little. "I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there," he said later. "I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding." To me, this isn't much of a backpedal, since an opinion on "the wisdom" of the location is irrelevant anyway. But a lot of people have been making hay with it.

As this whole thing unfolds, we'll see who stands with the Constitution by defending the right to build Cordoba House and we'll see who stands against it by capitalizing on hatred and fear and intolerance. Unfortunately, we'll also see some cowardly Democrats unwilling to touch the issue with a ten-foot pole. And that's a pity.


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