While Obama Waffles, National Dems Mostly Keep Mum
President Obama appeared to take a strong stance in support of Park51, as the project is named, at a White House Ramadan dinner on Friday, saying, “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.” Only the next day, the president downplayed his remarks, saying he was simply defending, not endorsing the mosque, and that he would “ not comment on the wisdom” of the project.
Breaking with Obama’s tepid support, and becoming one of the only national Democrats to take a stand, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came out against the mosque on Monday, saying it “ should be built someplace else.” Reid, of course, is in a tough re-election battle with ultra-conservative Tea Partier Sharron Angle, so his tack to the right could be seen as political posturing.
Beyond Reid and Obama, few Democratic officials have gone on the record. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t issued any comments, nor has any other member of the House leadership. Even gaffe-prone Vice President Joe Biden has yet to weigh in on the hot topic.
• Full coverage of the Ground Zero mosque GOP’s 2012 Candidates—Surprise!—Voice Their Opposition
The Republican field of presidential contenders, still wide open and jostling for position, has shown remarkable unity in opposing the mosque.
Sarah Palin was first to lead the charge, taking to Twitter on July 18 to call on “peaceful New Yorkers” to “ refudiate” the plans on the grounds that emotions about 9/11 are still “too raw, too real.” (The former Alaska governor later corrected the word to “refute.”) Other 2012 hopefuls, like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, have followed suit.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee offered this curious logic on his FOX television show: “Even if the Muslims have the right to build it, don’t they do more to serve the public interest by exercising the responsible judgment to not build it?”
Newt Gingrich objected on grounds of fairness, saying: “There should be no mosques near ground zero in New York as long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” However, he later said he’d consider Park51 appropriate if it were built, say, 80 blocks north.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, considered a top contender for 2012, waited weeks to jump into the fray, and then issued only a short statement through a representative. Ever on the lookout to gain clout over his counterparts, Romney staked out a unique angle, saying Park51 has “the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda.”
Apart from Bloomberg, New York Pols Run for Cover
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, has become the national face of support for Park51, saying recently that it would be a “ sad day for America” if the plans were shut down. He’s spoken out in rousing terms on the issues several times and praised Obama’s first supportive comments, calling them a “clarion defense of the freedom of religion.”
His Empire State colleagues, while tentatively supportive, have been far less than fulsome in their comments. Most of them, facing voters in November, have tried to keep their distance from the topic by issuing excruciatingly vague statements. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, will say only that she “ supports the [community] board’s decision” to approve the proposal. Her Senate colleague Chuck Schumer has taken a similar tack; the normally verbose politician has limited his position to a careful two words: “ not opposed.”
New York Gov. David Paterson avoided making a decisive stance by proposing a compromise plan to relocate the mosque—with state funding—that was flatly rejected by the mosque’s developers. Andrew Cuomo, the state attorney general running to replace Paterson, was backed into a corner by attacks from Newt Gingrich and vowed to look into the legal status of Park51’s plans. His running mate, Bob Duffy, echoed Paterson’s nixed relocation plan.
Florida’s Wild Cards
Mayor Bloomberg has an unlikely ally in Charlie Crist, the formerly Republican Florida governor forced to run for Senate as an independent by a Tea Party challenger. “This is a place where you’re supposed to be able to practice your religion without the government telling you can’t,” Crist said this week.
Also in Florida, gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink joined the short list of opposing Democrats in saying that 9/11 families “are opposed to this project and I share this view.”
What About Everyone Else?
In an Aug. 6-10 poll by CNN, a decisive majority of Americans, 68 percent, said they do not support the construction of Park51 near ground zero.
But Nate Silver, the number-crunching statistician who leapt to fame by correctly predicting most election outcomes of 2008, writes that the polls are more ambiguous than they seem. Public opinion, according to Silver, “ is divided into thirds.” A third, he writes, agrees with Bloomberg’s full-throated support. Another third is more in line with Harry Reid, who recognizes the right of Muslims to build a mosque but questions the wisdom of its location. The final third, like Gingrich and Palin, doesn’t believe the project has any legs to stand on.