Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Mosque in Manhattan and Polls

According to the best available evidence 68% of Americans oppose the plan to build a huge new Islamic cultural center near where the World Trade Center once stood.  Yesterday, Harry Reid, said through an aide that he opposed the construction on the site.   The President has fumbled the issue significantly prompting Roger Simon to suggest that Obama, whose tin ear on this and other issues has been profound, might be a one term president.

Simon argues that a first term president, to be a second term president, needs to follow the polls.   I think that is wrong.   There are time when a president needs to follow what's right - regardless of the polls.  In this case the issue is wrong for the President in both ways - the polls are against him and common sense would suggest that it might be a time for a bit of leadership.

The President's dinner statement (Moslems have freedom of religion here too) was correct.  Indeed, the law and the Constitution guarantee the free exercise of religion.  (Although many in the President's party deny that clause in the First Amendment and rely only on the "establishment" clause.)   But the law is not the only variable here.   "Ground Zero" is there because of the terrorist act of 19 extreme Moslems.
In good taste and good sense the supporters could have recognized that the context here is wrong.   They might have recognized that until a Christian could be safe in Islamic republics (could a church be built in places like Mecca) there is not much of a case for freedom of religion in all places and at all times.  The right here is conditioned by context.   The Imam who is leading this attempt to build a mosque and cultural center could also have aided his cause by being a bit more open on sources of funds.  There is a good deal of speculation that funding for this project is coming from some extremist sources.  If that is not true, he could have disclosed the sources of funds.

New York's so called political leaders have been pictures of idiocy here.  They have argued the narrow legal issue rather than the larger contextual issue.   The mosque in this location at this time (and perhaps forever) is simply in bad taste.   The President stumbled from being a supporter at the dinner (in the narrow legal sense) to raising questions about the issue.  There are times when a President can say "damn the polls" I am the leader and I need to lead.  Simon is wrong.  But when a leader does that he needs to understand the dynamics of the issue and be willing to take a few hits in the early stages.  In this case the President threw out a position to encourage one constituency never realizing that the other side might weigh in.  When they did he quickly retreated. He looked as feckless as Jimmy Carter.  

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