Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Obama Disappointment Watch: Cordoba House Edition

I'm starting to wonder if President Obama can give nuanced speeches on controversial topics only when his own bacon is in the fire. Because in the history of cowardly question-ducking, this one goes pretty high on the list:

As the proposal to build a 13-story Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero moves forward and controversy surrounding the plan grows, top New York Democrats are maintaining radio silence on the matter.

President Obama is also declining to take a position on the issue. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today the decision to build the mosque next to Ground Zero is "rightly a matter for New York City and the local community to decide."

When a reporter asked why Obama would use his powers of moral suasion on other issues where religious freedom is concerned, but not this issue, Gibbs ducked the question and said it was a local matter.

This is Grade A political cowardice. And it's furthermore nonsensical: The First Amendment is a "local matter?" Umm ... where to begin?

At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum wonders whether Republicans who are summoning the country to a culture war over the Cordoba House issue -- Rudy Giuliani, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, most prominently -- are "venal or stupid." It doesn't actually matter, but the question moves him to state: "For once, I really do miss George Bush. The damage he did to the American cause in the Muslim world is incalculable, but at least he never countenanced this kind of lunatic bigotry."

That's exactly right. And the problem with Obama right now isn't that he's "countenancing lunatic bigotry." The problem is that he's doing nothing to counter it.

Now, the country's fairly well split these days, and it's possible -- I suppose -- that an Obama statement would be greeted along more or less those lines. But as many commentators have noticed, the Cordoba House initiative really isn't a local matter: It's being watched by "peace-seeking" Muslims around the world to gauge if the United States makes good on its promises, or if this country is willing to bend or even break its own rules to deny Muslims the right to full participate in American life. That makes the debate something of a national security issue -- and thus demands the president's participation and leadership.

Instead, we're left to seek statesmanship and moral leadership in the unlikeliest of places: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

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