Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has come out against a proposed Islamic center and mosque in lower Manhattan, saying that although the complex is protected by free speech, it shouldn't be built there.
That puts Reid at loggerheads with President Obama, who spoke in favor of the project during an iftar at the White House Friday evening marking the end of the day's Ramadan fast. It puts him in the same column, however, as his Republican opponent, Sharron Angle, who on Monday condemned the mosque and attacked Reid for not commenting on it: "As the Majority Leader, Harry Reid is usually President Obama's mouthpiece in the U.S. Senate, and yet he remains silent on this issue." Reid quickly obliged with a statement from a spokesman.
It might seem a bit odd for the Senate's ranking Democrat to take the side of a challenger, especially when his campaign's strategy for defeating her has basically been to paint her as a nut (in fairness, some conservatives see her this way too). But Reid is in the fight of his political life, and although his numbers have improved drastically in the last few months, he's will within the margin of error against Angle in most polls. It's not hard to imagine that backing the mosque wouldn't help him in Nevada, but certainly won't hurt.
Obama's comments set off a round of cringing and congratulations on the left. While some liberals rejoiced that the president had finally spoken on an issue that seemed crystal-clear to them, his "clarification" Saturday—which some observers have seen as a minor walk-back of Friday's comments, and which only muddied things—was wince-worthy. Meanwhile, prominent Democrats are worried that Obama is putting the party's credibility on the line for an issue that will hurt many candidates but won't help much.
In fact, Reid may be one example of a Democrat whose hand was forced by Obama. Before, national Democrats could safely ignore the mosque question, but it's now clearly on the national stage and hard for the Senate majority leader to stay silent. His stated position has wide support—many opponents of the mosque admit there's no lawful reason the government should interfere with the mosque (as do two-thirds of Americans). Instead, they and Reid argue that the mosque's backers should do the honorable thing and move somewhere else (other opponents are less measured). His statement won't endear Reid to liberals who are already fed up with him, but it might help dampen the debate in Nevada. On the other hand, it probably won't do much to tamp down the increasingly bitter and recriminative national fight.