It’s Sunday and once again, I would like to complain about today’s Jack Kelly editorial column. My theme (or perhaps motif, if you will) of the past few weeks has been how I believe Mr. Kelly is preaching now to the Tea Party, This week’s column does nothing to dissuade me.
This week it is the Ground Zero mosque, which is actually two blocks away from Ground Zero and not strictly speaking a mosque (but anyway …). Kelly brings up (in my opinion) two issues, what the President said and that the President said anything at all.
First as far as talking about what the President says, Kelly somewhat distorts recent history, in my opinion. First, when Obama spoke first about the Mosque/community center on that Friday the 13th he talked about religious freedom in America and the right to build the mosque/community center. Of course the next day, perhaps based on reactions, he damped down expectation by saying he was only talking about the right, not the wisdom. Kelly states “the right to build the mosque was not in controversy”. I would disagree with that little bit of history re-write. I believe the original call was for the Mosque/community center not to be built, period, and only more recently line has become “move the location”. Sarah Palin called for Muslims to “refudiate” the mosque, and Newt Gingrich compared Muslims to Nazis, both simply saying don’t build the mosque/community center, without conceding it would be legal to build. Sean Hannity suggested that the mosque would be used as a wedge to change the constitution to make the US adopt Sharia and become a theocracy. The New York Post had at least one column describing how the constitution was being “slimed and perverted” well before the President spoke on that Friday. As Dayvoe of Two PJ’s noted(a day before the President spoke), someone from the American Family Association said he wants no more mosques anywhere. I believe there will be pressure here and there not to build any individual mosque, but I suspect most new mosques would not face serious opposition.
Now I will admit that Obama forcefully talking about the rights of Muslims one day and then questioning the wisdom of the location the next was disappointing. Kelly chooses to suggest that those who praised Obama speech on Friday night, specifically Greg Sargent and Glenn Greenwald, were made to look like fools on Saturday by Obama subsequent remarks. First I will say Kelly should be careful about calling others fools (and leave lots more I could say about that alone). Second, I don’t think that Obama took an oath to avoid making journalists look like fools. Third, I doubt that anyone reading Greenwald (or Sargent I assume, since I have not read his stuff) would think him a fool in any way. Journalists/pundits report/opine about what is in front of them, and obviously politicians sometimes change tacks to play to various constituencies. I have written that I believe Obama wants to avoid giving opponents the opportunity to label any of his stands as explicitly black, and Obama may have thought his support of the mosque/community center would fall into that category (remember 4 out of 10 slaves brought to the US were Muslims).
Kelly’s other point was that by weighing in on the issue, Obama took a local issue to a national level. I think there is no doubt that Obama’s statement both ratcheted up and redefined the issue (after all, he is the President). Now let’s be clear here, this is an issue dealing with New York City, America’s largest and most important city, and an issue that has been identified with 9/11, at least the second most important incident in the American experience in this new century (we did elect an African American President for the first time in US history too). The mosque/community center had been in the works for some time, but a blogger named Pam Geller who writes Atlas Shrugged was an opponent starting back in December of last year, and ramping up this past spring (Atlas Shrugged seems to be an oft quoted conservative blog). Republicans in New York City and State appeared to start opposing the mosque/community center back in the spring (perhaps timed to coincide with primary races ramping up). Rick Lazio started to show up on national TV morning news shows in July. CNN asked a question about the mosque/community center in a national poll on August 11th, two days before the President spoke.
Since the President spoke, the media’s focus has shifted somewhat, in continually mentioning that the mosque/community center’s developers have the right to build it, and we hear much more about moving the site than before. Is that a reasonable compromise, to move the mosque/community center, or should we even expect that Republican bullies can force the mosque/community center’s developers to compromise? The only thing I can say for sure is that the question would likely not even be conceivable if the President had not spoken.
I think the Tea Party is happy to find an issue to distract voters with. Their own candidates (and other conservative Republicans) are sounding fairly loopy, opposing rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, but wanting to privatize Social Security, eliminate Medicare, change the 14th amendment and maybe even repeal civil rights legislation. Kelly suggests Democrats are desperately tarring opponents of the mosque/community center with the labels of terrorist or bigot, yet Kelly calls Speaker Pelosi “Nanzi”. Mostly Kelly wants to preserve the illusion that Republicans and particularly the Tea Party is making progress by preaching small government and hatred of different peoples. Of course that message is seductive (see Reagan Democrats), but I want to believe that the American people are smarter than that, that we can look at the twin histories of the Great Depression and World Ward II, and know that Americans don’t turn their backs on each other (or when we do it doesn’t turn out well), and that politics of hate are the politics of genocide. It is the tension between the (famous and first Republican) Lincoln’s quote about fooling people versus Menken’s line about underestimating the taste of the American people. I choose to bet on Lincoln.