James Hohmann, Maggie Haberman and Mike Allen in Politico:
The White House on Saturday struggled to tamp down the controversy over President Barack Obama’s statements about a mosque near Ground Zero — insisting Obama wasn’t backing off remarks Friday night where he offered support for a project that has infuriated some families whose loved ones died in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Obama’s comments placed him in the middle of the controversy over a Muslim group’s plans for a mosque near the site of the 2001 attack — and in turn, transformed an emotion-laden local dispute in New York into a nationwide debate overnight.
Republicans pounced, amid early signs that the issue would seep into some state and congressional contests. “It is divisive and disrespectful to build a mosque next to the site where 3,000 innocent people were murdered at the hands of Islamic extremism,” said Florida GOP Senate candidate Marco Rubio. His opponent, Charlie Crist, a Republican turned independent, came out in support of Obama’s comments.
And Democrats — at least some who were willing to comment — could barely contain their frustration over Obama’s remarks, saying he had potentially placed every one of their candidates into the middle of the debate by giving GOP candidates a chance to ask them point-blank: Do you agree with Obama on the mosque, or not?
That could be particularly damaging to moderate Democrats in conservative-leaning districts, already 2010’s most vulnerable contenders.
“I would prefer the president be a little more of a politician and a little less of a college professor,” former Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), who once ran the House Democratic campaign arm, wrote in POLITICO’s Arena. “While a defensible position, it will not play well in the parts of the country where Democrats need the most help.”
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:
We now have official Washington’s response and take on the President’s speech last night stating that Muslim-Americans have every right to build an Islamic center on private property near Ground Zero. It comes in the form of Politico’s ubiquitous and closely followed “Playbook” email. As the author puts it, the statement poses a basic choice: is it “Obama delivering on his status as a breakthrough figure on American history”, by which we mean a feel-good affirmative action president with a foreign-sounding name or “elitist arrogance.”
It continues with various responses — mainly from chortling but unnamed Republican operatives marveling at the president’s being out of touch or courting a backlash from regular Americans but also one from Michael Bloomberg and a circumspect response from a White House aide.
The stand out for me was the response from what the author labels a “middle American” …
“This is too much. It’s not insensitivity that’s leading these guys to build this mosque. It’s a monument to their conquer of the site — just like the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem or the conversion of the Hagia Sophia (former primary church of the Byzantine empire in Istanbul) into a mosque”
There’s also what’s titled a “flashback” to what is apparently the most apt comparison, President Bush’s impromptu speech at Ground Zero two days after the attack: “”I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
It’s a quite a moment. We’re still hung up on the Turks turning the Hagia Sophia into a Mosque in 1453? Soon after 9/11 we marveled at how the bin Ladenites could still be so aggrieved over the abolition of the Caliphate in 1923 and the loss of Muslim Spain in 1492. But I guess times change.
John Hinderaker at Powerline
Frank Gaffney at Big Peace:
At a White House celebration of Ramadan tonight in the company of representatives of several of the Nation’s most prominent Muslim Brotherhood front organizations, President Obama announced his strong support for one of their most immediate objectives: the construction of a mega-mosque and “cultural center” at Ground Zero. In so doing, he publicly embraced the greatest tar-baby of his presidency.
In the process, Mr. Obama also inadvertently served up what he likes to call a “teachable moment” concerning the nature of the enemy we are confronting, and the extent to which it is succeeding in the Brotherhood’s stated mission: “…Eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and ‘sabotaging’ its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.”
As the AP reported, “President Barack Obama on Friday forcefully endorsed building a mosque near Ground Zero saying the country’s founding principles demanded no less. ‘As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country,’ Obama said, weighing in for the first time on a controversy that has riven New York and the nation. ‘That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.’
“Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect to those who are different from us—a way of life that stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.”
So much for the pretense that, as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs had previously declared, the President would not get involved because the Ground Zero mosque (GZM) controversy was “a local matter.” (As opposed, say, to the arrest of a Harvard professor on disorderly conduct charges.)
Gone too is the option of continuing to conceal an extraordinary fact: the Obama administration is endorsing not only this “local matter,” but explicitly endorsing the agenda of the imam behind it – Feisal Abdul Rauf. Rauf is the Muslim Brother, who together with his wife Daisy Khan (a.k.a. Daisy Kahn for tax purposes, at least) runs the tellingly named “Cordoba Initiative.” He is believed to be on a taxpayer-underwritten junket and/or fund-raising tour of the Middle East, courtesy of the State Department, which insists that he is a “moderate” in the face of abundant evidence to the contrary. Interestingly, the President’s rhetoric – like that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other apologists for and boosters of the GZM – tracks perfectly with the Muslim Brotherhood line about why we need to allow what Lieutenant General William “Jerry” Boykin has correctly described as an “Islamist victory arch” close by some of America’s most hallowed ground. It is, we are told, all about “religious freedom” and “tolerance.”
What makes this particularly commendable is there is virtually no political gain to be had from doing it, and substantial political risk. Polls shows overwhelming opposition to the mosque nationwide (close to 70% opposed), and that’s true even in New York, where an extraordinary “50% of Democrats, 74% of Republicans, and 52% of ‘non-enrolled’ voters, don’t want to see the mosque built.” The White House originally indicated it would refrain from involving itself in the dispute, and there was little pressure or controversy over that decision. There was little anger over the President’s silence even among liberal critics. And given the standard attacks directed at Obama — everything from being “soft on Terror” to being a hidden Muslim — choosing this issue on which to take a very politically unpopular and controversial stand is commendable in the extreme.
The campaign against this mosque is one of the ugliest and most odious controversies in some time. It’s based purely on appeals to base fear and bigotry. There are no reasonable arguments against it, and the precedent that would be set if its construction were prevented — equating Islam with Terrorism, implying 9/11 guilt for Muslims generally, imposing serious restrictions on core religious liberty — are quite serious. It was Michael Bloomberg who first stood up and eloquently condemned this anti-mosque campaign for what it is, but Obama’s choice to lend his voice to a vital and noble cause is a rare demonstration of principled, politically risky leadership. It’s not merely a symbolic gesture, but also an important substantive stand against something quite ugly and wrong. This is an act that deserves pure praise.
UPDATE: To anyone wanting to quibble with what was done here — the timing, the wording, etc. — I’ll just pose this question: when is the last time a President voluntarily entered an inflammatory public controversy by taking a position opposed by 70% of the public?
I have an idea our President will love – maybe we can open an Islamic Waffle House in a building damaged in the 9/11 attacks. Obama can be the first customer.
On Friday night President Obama explained tolerance and the Constitution to We The Rubes, drawing this headline from the Times:
Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site
With uncanny prescience AllahPundt explained that the media was reporting on their fantasies, and that Obama was actually splitting the difference:
So what’s a poll-readin’ president to do? On the one hand, he’s at a Ramadan dinner and doesn’t want to alienate either the audience or his base. On the other hand, he’s staring at supermajority opposition to the mosque. Hey, I know: How about a statement that mostly dodges the question of whether it should be built in favor of the easier question of whether the owners have the right to build it? Not a Bloombergian lecture, in other words (unlike Bloomberg, Obama’s not a lame duck and thus can’t afford to wag his finger like The Enlightened so enjoy doing), but rather a pat on the back for free exercise and a pat on the back for the mosque’s opponents by acknowledging their “emotions.” He’s basically voting present. But since the media is pro-mosque too and eager to leverage authority on behalf of its position, this’ll be spun tomorrow as some sort of stirring statement in defense of the right to … alienate everyone around you, I guess, in the ostensible interests of “dialogue.”
Obama Says Mosque Upholds Principle of Equal Treatment
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERGPANAMA CITY, Fla. — President Obama said on Saturday that in defending the right of Muslims to build a community center and mosque near Ground Zero he “was not commenting” on “the wisdom” of that particular project, but rather trying to uphold the broader principle that government should treat “everyone equal, regardless” of religion.
…White House officials said earlier in the day that Mr. Obama was not trying to promote the project, but rather sought more broadly to make a statement about freedom of religion and American values. “In this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion,” Mr. Obama said at the Coast Guard station. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.
“And I think it’s very important as difficult as some of these issues are that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.”
That was quick. Gutless, but quick.
Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:
So, of course, now right wing bloggers are crowing that Obama is “walking back” his earlier statement; but I don’t see that at all. Obama is emphasizing that his remarks were meant to support the Constitution — which should be enough for anyone. The idea that it’s somehow “unwise” to build this project is a concept promoted by opponents, and it’s irrelevant to the Constitutional issue; it would have been neither appropriate nor productive for Obama to wade into that poisoned debate.
Andy McCarthy at The Corner:
Already getting trounced in the polls, Democrats are reeling over the President’s decision to side with the Muslim Brotherhood over the American people by endorsing the Ground Zero mosque. So he’s trying to close Pandora’s Box.
Politico reports [and thanks to John Hinderaker at Powerline for pointing this out] that Obama is now seeking “to defuse the controversy” by explaining that he was merely talking about the mosque proponents’ legal right to build at the World Trade Center site. “I was not commenting and I will not comment,” he said, “on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there” (emphasis added).
Good luck with that one. Compounding insult with cynicism and cowardice is probably not a winning strategy.
UPDATE: Bill Kristol at The Weekly Standard
Andy McCarthy at NRO
David Dayen at Firedoglake
Tbogg on Kristol
UPDATE #2: Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus at Bloggingheads