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Obama’s Park51 Mistake

Guess what happens when you try to please everybody

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President Obama speaking Friday night.(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Unless the Park51 developers decide they will play ball with New York Gov. David Paterson (and they most recently denied reports that they are willing to move sites), the issue looks likely to fade into memory as another culture war battle, another bit of sound and fury signifying many things and leading to nothing in particular. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) prominently opposed the mosque’s building, presumably because of his tough upcoming election fight. Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich essentially equated Nazism and Islam, presumably to gear up for his tough upcoming primary election fight. Politics once again brings out the best in us all.

And then there is Obama. His position—speaking in favor of religious tolerance Friday night, in a way that seemed to endorse the center; then spending the rest of the weekend backtracking—was blunt: Not in the way strong opinions are blunt, but in the way heavily used razors are blunt.

What has his waffling accomplished? One wants to say that he pushed the conventional wisdom toward the position that, if nothing else, the Park51 developers have the right to build their center there, and in fact he probably did. But it was never all that important for the conventional wisdom to come around on the rights issue: Constitutional rights don’t require conventional wisdom; they can be opposed by 90 percent of the electorate at any given time and our judicial system is still going to uphold them; that’s what makes them Constitutional rights.

What Obama’s bland non-position has done, really, is to raise the temperature on an issue that was already hot enough while providing a further opening for the center’s detractors and no comfort for its supporters. (It was also almost certainly a stupid move politically—stupider than just keeping his mouth shut, anyway—but never mind.) Richard Cohen’s op-ed today is something of a masterpiece, and the first thing you should email around if you indeed support the center’s construction at 45-51 Park Place. But reasonable people can differ on that. What seems indisputable is Cohen’s point about Obama:

Having once again gotten high praise for so very little, he went to bed a panicked man and reached, trembling, some hours later, for a political morning-after pill to take back some of what he had said. Whew, for a moment there he was pregnant with principle. …

Does he not grasp that questioning the “wisdom” of the mosque’s placement is predicated on thinking that 9/11 was a Muslim crime? Does he not understand that the issue here is religious prejudice, not zoning? The answer, of course, is that he does.

That’s what is so profoundly disappointing. Most of what we know about the man suggests that he personally agrees with the minority of Americans that the center should be built as planned. If he had admitted this, then great. If he had determined, whether out of principle or political wisdom, that it was not his place to comment, then that could be respected. Instead, no one is happy. “But unlike Henry Clay,” writes Cohen, “he would rather be president than right.” His non-stand makes both less likely.

Obama Muddles His Mosque Message [WP]
Earlier: Obama Backs Islamic Center, Sort Of

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Well, it’s true both that Harry Reid’s spoken up later than Republicans on this, and that he’s going w/what the polls say is the majority view…but why say that this is “presumably because of his tough upcoming election fight?” Is there no way a Democrat might come, through a careful process of deliberation, to the nuanced view that though Park51’s have the right to build Park51 anywhere, they oughtn’t to build it two blocks from Ground Zero? I don’t imagine you’re completely cynical about Democratic politicians, and that you think that they only express politically expedient views all the time. So maybe it’s just a subset of their views that only political expediency can explain: the ones where they disagree with you.

Oops: I left out the word “organizers.” Apologies.

I suppose a beer summit during Ramadan is out of the question.

how does this relate to the judicial system?

Obama’s principles are based on an African brand of revenge. He’s America’s own Mugabe liberating oppressed Africans from the oppressive white majority. Mugabe once stated: “The only white man you can trust is a dead white man.” So in keeping with African tradition of revenge, Obama glorifies Islam’s greatest hour.

But, this is America, not Africa. All those who want to participate in the American Experiment, can. All those who don’t, leave. Good bye Mr. Obama. Africa will embrace you with the lavish exile you desire.

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Regards for all your efforts that you have put in this. Very interesting information. “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” by Mark Twain.

The root of your writing while appearing reasonable in the beginning, did not settle properly with me personally after some time. Someplace throughout the paragraphs you actually managed to make me a believer unfortunately only for a while. I still have a problem with your jumps in logic and you might do well to help fill in those breaks. In the event that you can accomplish that, I will surely be impressed.

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Did you hear someone has invented a coffin that just covers the head? It’s for people like you who’re dead from the neck up!


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Obama’s Park51 Mistake

Guess what happens when you try to please everybody

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