08.17.10

Grow a Pair, Democrats

Think the GOP was shameless on the “ground zero” mosque? The Democrats, beginning with Obama, have been utter cowards.

When a reporter in Ohio asked Obama if he regretted entering the debate over the mosque being built near Ground Zero, the president thought for a moment and said “The answer is: no regrets.” Obama said on Friday that he supported the right of Muslims to build there, then backtracked some the next day by saying he was only commenting on religious freedom.

The Daily Beast's Peter Beinart says Democrats, beginning with Obama, have been utter cowards.

Yesterday, I wrote about what the "Ground Zero" mosque disaster reveals about the Republican Party. In short, it reveals that the Bush administration was a false dawn. Bush, for all his flaws, believed that the GOP should be a universalistic party based on traditional values, a big tent for “faith-based" conservatives of all races and creeds: Muslims, Hispanics, Mormons, African-Americans, whatever. Now it is clear that the post-Bush GOP is a far nastier creature: A party seething with hatred towards vulnerable religious and ethnic groups. Despite the pretense that the GOP’s anti-mosque crusade is based on what Imam Rauf and company believe, it has more to do with who they are. It’s telling that the people Republicans are turning to for their anti-mosque street cred are not “moderate, peace-loving” Muslims, since even Muslim Republicans are disgusted by their party’s actions. The GOP’s new heroes are former Muslims like Nonie Darwish and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That’s one way to escape the new Republican bigotry. Maybe the folks the GOP wants to harass in Arizona should try becoming former Hispanics.

Turns out that when push comes to shove, folks in the Big Apple are about as concerned about the rights of Muslims as folks in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

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

But the mosque fiasco hasn’t only exposed the pretensions of the GOP. It’s exposed the pretensions of the Democrats as well. In important ways, it has revealed that the Obama administration, too, is a false dawn. After all, what did Obama promise liberals when he ran against Hillary Clinton? He promised that if he won, Democrats would no longer consult polls to decide what they believed. That’s what made Obama’s 2002 Iraq War speech so significant: when Washington Democrats were ducking for cover, taking positions that they manifestly did not believe, he did what he thought was right.

On health care, to be fair, Obama defied the polls and did something brave. But on the moral issues surrounding the “war on terror”—starting with Guantanamo Bay—he has been Clintonesque in the worst sense of the word. His initial statement in support of the mosque was laudable; his subsequent efforts to deny that that’s what he meant have been pathetic. Yes, the polling is bad; standing up for a religious minority being made to feel like a pariah in its own land might cost Obama a few approval points. So what. Core convictions are worth losing approval points over. At least that’s what Obama believed in 2002.

At best, the Democrats have been cowards. With the exception of Jerrold Nadler, the great (and normally voluble) liberals in the New York congressional delegation have kept their mouths shut. Harry Reid has actually come out against the mosque. We’re supposed to believe, we savvy, pragmatic liberals, that the Democrats fleeing the anti-Muslim stampede are mere opportunists, not actual bigots. I guess we’ll have to take their word for it. A few years back, you’ll remember, Democrats rushed to demagogue a company from Dubai that bought the rights to manage some American seaports. Evidently that was just opportunism too. In the end, it doesn’t much matter what it’s in your heart if you lack the backbone to express it. That was the rap against Democrats in the Clinton and Bush eras and evidently, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

So let’s stop sneering when Dick Morris comes on TV. The behavior of today’s Democratic pols must have made him proud. And it’s time for New Yorkers to stop talking haughtily about the prejudices of flyover country. According to Fox, 30 percent of Americans support building the mosque near Ground Zero. In New York City, according to Marist, it’s 34 percent. That, evidently, is the margin of blue state decency. Turns out that when push comes to shove, folks in the Big Apple are about as concerned about the rights of Muslims as folks in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Who says we’re a nation divided, that we can’t find common ground? Almost a decade later, we’ve finally done it: The memory of September 11 has brought us together again.

Peter Beinart, senior political writer for The Daily Beast, is associate professor of journalism and political science at City University of New York and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. His new book, The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, is now available from HarperCollins. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.