Greg Sargent is a left-winger who worked for Editor & Publisher magazine [Correction: I confused him with Greg Mitchell. Sargent was with the American Prospect and Talking Points Memo.] When that publication went broke, he caught on as a blogger at the Washington Post. Today he hailed President Obama’s endorsement of Cordoba House as “One of the finest moments of Obama’s presidency.” That’s damning with faint praise, some would say, but it is interesting to follow Sargent’s logic. He agrees with us that Obama intended his remarks to be taken as a strong endorsement of the Ground Center mosque:
Obama didn’t just stand up for the legal right of the group to build the Islamic center. He voiced powerful support for their moral right to do so as well, casting it as central to American identity. … Obama went much further than [to acknowledge the legal rights of the project’s backers]. He asserted that we must “welcome” and “respect” those of other faiths, suggesting that the group behind the center deserves the same, and said flat out that anything less is un-American.
I think that fairly sums up Obama’s remarks. Sargent contrasts Obama’s enthusiasm with the Cordoba House’s reception on the right:
Many opponents of the project have been employing a clever little dodge. They say they don’t question the group’s legal right to build it under the Constitution. Rather, they say, they’re merely criticizing the group’s decision to do so, on the grounds that it’s insensitive to 9/11 families and will undercut the project’s goal of reconciliation. The group has the right to build the center, runs this argument, but they are wrong to exercise it.
That, too, fairly sums up our position and that of many conservatives. But why is this a “clever little dodge”? Does Sargent believe that everything a person has a legal right to do is a good thing? He never addresses any of the facts that cause critics of the Cordoba House project to believe that it is a bad idea: the cultural center’s proposed location adjacent to Ground Zero; the fact that it is named after the capital of the Muslim caliphate in Spain; the fact that the person most closely identified with the project, Abdul Rauf, blamed the U.S. for the September 11 attacks; the curious reticence of the project’s front men to explain where the $100 million needed for the cultural center will come from; and the plethora of mosques already available in New York at locations other than Ground Zero.
One thing Sargent is sure of is that Obama’s decision to step into the mosque controversy–which, as Obama noted recently, is a local and not a federal matter–was, in political terms, a self-inflicted wound:
Obama issued this statement in the full knowledge that his opponents have been itching for him to wade into this battle. The right is engaged in a concerted effort to make it politically toxic to stand up for the rights of Muslims — and to simultaneously insinuate that Obama is on “their” side, and not on ours. This dispute fits the bill perfectly. It’s the stuff of Liz Cheney’s dreams. Polls show overwhelming opposition to the project….
This contradicts Sargent’s earlier point that Obama didn’t just “stand up for the rights of Muslims,” but rather endorsed the mosque project with enthusiasm. And since when is it politically toxic to stand up for the rights of Muslims? The Department of Justice is now stocked largely with lawyers who not only stood up for the rights of Muslims, but offered their services for free–not just to Muslims, but to Muslim terrorists. Heck, I stood up for the rights of Muslims–not just Muslims, but the ones who want to build Cordoba House–here. I’m not aware of a single instance where the “rights of Muslims” are under attack, unlike, for example, the rights of Christians. Sargent’s claim is lame even by straw man standards.
But Sargent sees a political silver lining, and–who knows?–maybe this was the point all along:
Maybe [Republicans are] right to be gleeful: Obama’s entry will only further stoke passions and ensure that the battle continues, perhaps to his political detriment. [Ed.: Some say it is the deliberately provocative mosque project that stokes passions, and if Obama didn’t want the “battle” to continue, he should have quietly tried to discourage the project.] But in another sense, this couldn’t have come at a better time for Obama. His core supporters, frustrated, were badly in need of a display of presidential spine. They got one.
Sargent obviously counts himself among Obama’s core supporters; I think his insight into what his fellow core supporters want from the President is illuminating.
UPDATE: Oops. Looks like Sargent may have to recant his praise of Obama’s “spine.”
President Barack Obama on Saturday sought to defuse the controversy over his remarks on plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero, insisting that he wasn’t endorsing the specific project but making a general plea for religious tolerance toward all. …
“I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” Obama continued. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”
So Obama’s position on the mosque evidently is the same as mine. Just like his position on gay marriage.
The President apparently was reacting to criticism from his fellow Democrats:
Democrats – at least the ones willing to comment at all — could barely contain their frustration over Obama’s remarks Friday night, saying they would further complicate campaign efforts by candidates struggling in an anti-Democratic year, particularly moderates in conservative-leaning districts who already are 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-Tex.), who once ran the House Democratic campaign arm, wrote in POLITICO’s Arena.
I guess Frost must not be one of Obama’s “core supporters.”