08.16.10

The Mosque Litmus Test

As they head toward November, Democrats are facing a terrifying political reality: That their fortunes will be tied to where they come down on the mosque near ground zero.

As they head toward November, Democrats are facing a terrifying political reality: that their fortunes will be tied to where they come down on the mosque near ground zero.

The November elections are very close to becoming—if they haven’t already so become—the first national elections in the United States whose results are determined by the location of a mosque. Call them, in fact, the “Mosque Elections.”

Forget health-care reform and unbridled stimulus spending; forget perceived errors in Iraq and Afghanistan; forget unemployment and our economy’s endless night; forget, if you can, the toxic questions of illegal immigration and oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. If the promoters of the mosque near ground zero do not pack up their Korans and prayer mats within the next week or so, there is every danger that they will cause the Democrats grievous harm in November—in an election that is already one in which the Democrats are bracing for a rout.

Facing possible defeat in November, the principle-free Reid is alarmed enough to stress publicly that he “isn’t with” the dude who likes the mosque. Good luck to him.

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Sharif El-Gamal, developer of the Ground Zero mosque, defends it in an interview with NY1.

And why is that? Because Barack Obama has made the mosque-near-ground zero an election issue, placing this house of Islamic worship bang-center on the electoral stage. As we all now know, he was first for it, in a seemingly courageous assertion of the American freedom to worship in the manner and place of one’s choice; and then, a day later, he appeared to tone down his support, explaining that he was commenting on the Muslims’ “right” to a mosque, not on the “wisdom” of plunking it near ground zero.

Peter Beinart: America Has Disgraced Itself with Mosque Fury

Full coverage of the mosque debate
Maladroitly, in the space of 24 hours, the president placed the mosque on the national agenda, effectively making of it a nightmarish litmus test for every Democrat running for office in November. No Democrat, now, will be spared the blunt question: Do you support Obama’s position on the mosque? Effectively, they will be asked: Are you for, or against, the mosque? Embedded in that question: How do you rate Obama? And how can any Democrat come stirringly to the defense of the mosque if the president himself has pussyfooted on the subject?

Now imagine that you’re a Democrat in a tight race (and there are many of you). What do you say? If you support Obama on this question, you open yourself up to full-bore fire from the populist right. And if you don’t support Obama, you not only undermine the Democratic edifice, you must also resort to freelance language that is at pains to explain why you are somehow a Democrat, but not an Obama Democrat.

Imagine if that were to happen in race upon race across the country. And imagine, also, the collective unspooling of the party that could result from all of this: Once you start to differentiate yourself from the president on the mosque, you are tempted, also, to talk down health care, and the stimulus, and everything else that Obama stands for. What is left, then, of a collective platform? And what is left, then, of Obama?

No wonder Harry Reid is in a profound panic, calling—at the risk of embarrassing his president—for the mosque to be built elsewhere. Is this the start of an insurrection? Perhaps. Facing possible defeat in November, the principle-free Reid is alarmed enough to stress publicly that he “isn’t with” the dude who likes the mosque. Good luck to him.

Lost in this swirl, ironically, is the fact that the real, crying shame of ground zero is that the World Trade Center is still a hole in the ground. Why does no one mention this disgrace to New York City, and to the nation?

But that is a question best postponed; and that is another story.

 

 

Tunku Varadarajan is a national affairs correspondent and writer at large for The Daily Beast. He is also the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow in Journalism at Stanford's Hoover Institution and a professor at NYU's Stern Business School. He is a former assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal. (Follow him on Twitter here.)