What a remarkable turn of events we’ve seen over the last 72 hours. The president of the United States, in what I considered at the time an act of true political courage, bucked 70% of his countrymen who oppose the construction of a mosque and Islamic center overlooking Ground Zero by making a strong statement in support of the constitutional rights of the Muslims who want to build it.
But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. 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 unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.
Less than 24 hours later, the firestorm of criticism had become so intense that the president felt it necessary to issue a “clarification.”
So much for political courage:
“I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” Mr. Obama said. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.”
Too late, Mr. President. Your friends on the left eagerly took up your words and pinned your tail to the Islamic donkey by using your stirring speech about the rights of all Americans to worship as they please as ammunition in their war with the mosque’s detractors.
One need only glance at the slew of headlines in the immediate aftermath of the president’s Ramadan remarks to see what a monumental political miscalculation the president and his advisors made. From the New York Times (“Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site) to the Associated Press (“Obama Comes Out in Favor of Allowing Mosque Near Ground Zero”) to the Los Angeles Times (“Obama supports plan for mosque near ground zero”), Obama allies eagerly followed what appeared to be the president’s lead in supporting Imam Rauf, the Cordoba Initiative, and the Muslim moneybags who are financing this $100 million project.
It seems that what I thought was political courage, was actually political tone deafness. The president’s furious backtracking on the issue pulled the rug from underneath his left wing supporters, while once again demonstrating an inconstancy that is driving everyone batty. You would think that 20 months into his tenure in the Big Chair that President Obama would have understood that every syllable he utters is scrutinized, evaluated, re-analyzed and then filtered through different prisms of understanding so that if given the opportunity, people hear what they want to hear from him. The rhetoric of the campaign trail must give way to the rhetoric of governance where what the president declares must be unmistakably clear and open to as little interpretation as possible.
Apparently, this was not the case when President Obama made his remarks about the mosque at Ground Zero. However he meant what he said, it was interpreted by both camps as him taking sides on the issue. As both a matter of law and tradition, the president chose correctly. But while doing so, he virtually ignored the sensibilities of those who either have serious reservations about the stated intent of the builders of the mosque, or simply feel that it is inappropriate for a symbol of the religion that the terrorists – and their Islamist supporters around the world – fanatically believed they were fighting for overlook the site of their monstrous act of war.
There is more to this issue than black and white constitutional considerations. If there weren’t, it would be no problem I suppose, for a group made up of al-Qaeda sympathizing Muslims to attempt to build a mosque where the Cordoba group is planning construction. After all, if freedom of religion means anything, it’s that the political outlook of adherents should be ignored, concentrating instead on the spiritual or theological. The president artfully defended the concept – until he didn’t.
If anything, the president has muddied the waters even further.