Answers to Questions Nobody Is Asking
• "What Obama Meant to Say About the Mosque"--headline, TheAtlantic.com, Aug. 16
Is Harry Reid Un-American?
The pro-mosque left has no principles.
President Obama's pratfall over the Ground Zero mosque has provoked a lot of commentary
to the effect that the White House lacks "message discipline"
and the president speaks in a condescending and elitist tone.
These criticisms are true, but they should not detract from the substantive deficiency of the pro-mosque left. What purports to be a principled stance is in fact nothing of the sort.
This is entertainingly illustrated by the prolific Greg Sargent, a left-wing blogger for the Washington Post, whose berserk flailing on the topic the past few days has provided the unwittingly funniest political commentary since Journolist--in a way even funnier, since Sargent knows that he is writing for public consumption.
As we noted yesterday, Sargent first weighed in Saturday morning with a post in which he lavished praise on the president for supposedly attacking the patriotism of those who criticize the mosque's siting:
Obama could have merely cast this dispute as a Constitutional issue, talked about how important it is to hew to that hallowed document, and moved on.
But Obama went much further than that. 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.
Sargent should have slept in, for Obama soon explained that he merely meant to cast this dispute as a constitutional issue and has no intention of expressing an opinion on the wisdom of putting a mosque close to Ground Zero.
In a Saturday night post, Sargent tried to explain that he hadn't really thought that Obama was endorsing the project:
The "clarification" today would be a walkback if he had previously "endorsed" the project in the sense of declaring it a good idea. But he never "endorsed" it in that sense. Nor is it his place to do that.
Rather, Obama's "endorsement" of the project consisted entirely of a declaration that now that the group has decided to proceed, American ideals demand that we welcome and respect such people in situations like these. He hasn't backed off that core assertion.
Read that last sentence again. It has the form of a statement of principle but not the substance. Sargent is not ascribing to Obama the view that we must welcome and respect people in general, only "such people in situations like these."
How might this work in practice? Blogger Doug Powers quotes liberal commentator Bill Press:
"Sometimes you have to stand up and say, this is wrong--the wrong place. . . . It's a slap to the American people. . . . There are some places where cheap political tricks should not be allowed."
Press is not referring to the Ground Zero mosque, but to Glenn Beck's plan to hold a Tea Party rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, the anniversary of the "I have a dream" speech, which Martin Luther King delivered at the same spot. As the Washington Post reports, "social activists and civil rights leaders, among them the Rev. Al Sharpton, are planning marches and demonstrations" in protest.
Yet Press agrees with Sargent on the Ground Zero mosque:
There's only one reason to oppose this mosque, and that is to paint Islam as an evil religion and to paint all Muslims and equate them with a 19 terrorists who flew into that building. It is wrong. It is un-American, and the people against it ought to be ashamed of playing a cheap political trick.
Now, Beck has made a decision to exercise his First Amendment rights in a particular time and place. According to the Sargent Principle, doesn't this mean that American ideals oblige Al Sharpton and everyone else to "welcome and respect" him? That depends. Is Beck one of "such people"? Is his a "situation like these"? We have no idea who, other than the organizers of the Ground Zero mosque, fit the bill. These terms are so vague and subjective that Sargent has not asserted a principle at all. He has merely given himself (and people like him in situations like these!) license to call anyone whose views he doesn't like "un-American."
By Monday morning, Sargent was refining his views further:
It's one thing for Republicans to argue the case against the center on the merits. Fine. Agree or disagree, the same First Amendment that protects the right of the group to build the center also protect the right of conservatives to make a case against it.
But it's another thing entirely if Republicans adopt criticism of Obama's speech as part of a concerted electoral strategy.
So what was "un-American" on Saturday was "fine" by Monday, just an exercise of the First Amendment. But whereas freedom of speech is one thing, it's "another thing entirely" when it's "part of a concerted electoral strategy."
Well, at least when Republicans do it. Later yesterday, as CNN reports, Harry Reid, the sad clown of a Senate majority leader, announced his opposition to the Ground Zero mosque:
The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," spokesman Jim Manley said in a statement. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else."
Is Harry Reid un-American? In a post yesterday afternoon, Sargent stops well short of characterizing him in this way. He does call Reid's position "indefensible," and "unacceptable," though he dwells more on the political difficulty it causes Democrats:
It leaves the President hanging after he took a big risk to do the right thing. . . . What's more, it's unclear why coming out against the plan in the manner Reid did is even good politics for Democrats at this point. Reid basically threw the whole Dem caucus under the bus: With the Senate leader at odds with the president, the media will press every Senate Dem to declare which side they're on. And this fuels a bad narrative for Dems, too. . . . This just makes the Dems look weak, unorganized, cowardly, and unwilling to take a stand for principles they plainly believe in.
But wait. If one side is the side of "American ideals," and the other side is "un-American," why in the world shouldn't the media press every Senate Dem--and every other politician, for that matter--to declare which side he's on? And if the Democrats "plainly believe in" these "principles," what's stopping them from saying so? And shouldn't they remove Reid from his leadership position for betraying their principles, as Republicans ousted Trent Lott some years back?
It begins to become clear that Sargent is more of a partisan than an adherent to the "American ideals" that he is unable to articulate clearly anyway. He begins a post this morning by declaring it "genuinely sad" that a House Democrat, Rep. Michael Arcuri of New York, has announced his opposition to the siting of the mosque near Ground Zero. But he doesn't call Arcuri "un-American"; he merely accuses him of playing "pathetic Rovian games"--thus turning a criticism of a Democrat into a gratuitous attack on a Republican who no longer even works in government.
The New York Times, in an editorial today, takes a similarly partisan approach. The paper's editors denounce "Republican ideologues" who "spew . . . intolerant rhetoric," but pronounce themselves only "disturbed" by Reid's opposition to the Ground Zero mosque.
But another pair of passages from the Times editorial give away the whole game:
[Obama] would have done better if he had explained the wisdom of going ahead with the project, which developers said is intended to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together. . . . Mr. Obama and all people of conscience need to push back hard.
If the intent of the Ground Zero mosque is "to bring Muslims and non-Muslims together," it is already a failure on its own terms. But the Times betrays its own lack of interest in conciliation by urging the president to "push back hard."
By using the metaphor of physical assault, the Times makes clear that it views the placement of the proposed mosque as an assault on the sensibilities of what Times columnist Ross Douthat calls "the second America"--and that it is eager to see those sensibilities assaulted.
It reminds us of something Bob Tyrrell said about the left not long ago: "There is only one political value that they have stood by through three generations, and that is the political value of disturbing your neighbor." The pro-mosque left's pieties about "American ideals" have about as much to do with the reality of the controversy as the fringe right's ravings about "Shariah." In truth, the left favors a mosque near Ground Zero simply because most Americans find the idea obnoxious.
It's Called a Metaphor We told you he was prolific. Even as we were working on today's column, Greg Sargent was toiling away on another post, this one taking issue with our column yesterday in which we characterized President Obama as having voted "present" on the Ground Zero mosque. Sargent calls this "right wing's latest falsehood," and his rebuttal is a hoot:
The notion that Obama "voted present" on the project is beyond daft. It was never Obama's place to "vote" on the project--present or otherwise. And he very properly said so.
In case he really didn't get the reference, we'll explain it. When Obama was a member of the Illinois Senate, he frequently voted "present" rather than "yes" or "no" to avoid taking a position on controversial issues. (In the U.S. Senate, he avoided difficult votes by running for president so that he was often absent.) This has become a metaphor for other situations in which Obama attempts to dodge controversy by refusing to take a position, as in the case of the Ground Zero mosque.
It's sort of like when Sargent wrote yesterday that by voting "no" (figuratively, Greg!), Harry Reid "threw the whole Dem caucus under the bus." Surely Sargent does not think Reid actually committed 58 counts of homicide or attempted homicide against his colleagues.
BY JAMES TARANTO
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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE
17 AUGUST 10