Belmont Club

Talking Down to a Bigoted Nation

One of the most interesting things about watching pundits praise President Obama’s “politically courageous” endorsement of the Ground Zero mosque is that it comes at the price of admitting his political ineptness. Joshua Greenman congratulates the president on taking yet another principled stand against his bigoted countrymen. “Writing in the New York Daily News, columnist Joshua Greenman lauded Obama’s political courage for wading into a debate in which he stood to gain little.” Which doesn’t explain why when he realized it would cost him, the president walked his remarks back. “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.”

Both Greenman and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent think Obama’s only mistake was optics. Greenman said “there’s just one problem: Obama shouldn’t have made the statement at a Muslim religious event. It would have been much more effective politically to make the statement before American military men and women, or at a neutral venue.” Now that’s a real sensitive idea. You can make something politically wrong right by using the troops as props, and maybe some flags too. Greenman’s suggestion speaks volumes about the way pundits think. Sargent is more circumspect. He says Obama would have been understood differently if he had used different words:

To be clear, I agree entirely with Ben Smith and others who say that today’s quote was probably a political misstep. … What Obama should have said was this: “I’m not commenting on the wisdom of the project. Nor is it my place to do that. But now that they have decided to proceed, we must respect their right to build the center and welcome them in accordance with American ideals.”

But he didn’t say that and people are unfortunately trapped in a world where you have to go by what he actually said. Yet if the president had used different words, would that have made everything all right? No. Trouble was political and not legal. Pointing out that the Ground Zero mosque can be built legally is beside the point. A lot of legally permissible acts are unwise and even stupid. Leaders have traditionally been different from mere policemen in that they can convince actors to take the larger view in their self-interest. Or to be “sensitive” as people put it nowadays. It’s a role Obama himself never tires of performing when a new terrorist attack occurs. Then the bigoted nation is told to be understanding, show compassion, not stand on their strict rights, remember their shameful past.  Who hasn’t heard the ‘teaching moment’ all before? Politics goes beyond strict legalities. And Sargent, Smith and Greenman frankly admit that from a political point of view it was an Epic Fail. The best they can do is retreat to the pointless high ground that the law is the law, something which Joe Arpaio would be glad to point out but we don’t want to go there.

Much more interesting is the lame contention that bending over backward on the Ground Zero mosque would make the Muslim world love America. Newsbusters reports David Ignatius as saying:

I agree with that. I think that’s one of our strongest suits. As the world looks at us, if they see that the United States, even in an issue that hurts, and Ground Zero hurts, even on that issue, we still stand up for the freedom of people to dispose of their property as they want. That does count. When I travel, you travel Christiane, we hear comments about that America a lot. I think you shouldn’t minimize the benefits of saying to moderate Muslim, here you are. This upsets a lot of Americans, but we’re going to do it anyway.

I think Ignatius is wrong. All bending over backward tells moderate Muslims is that the American political elite will abandon everything — even Ground Zero — to the radicals. It tells the Muslim world that the American elite, from cowardice or moral vanity will sell out anyone. And that doesn’t breed Muslim respect; it breeds universal contempt. Then they will turn to each other and say, “if you were thinking of fighting by America’s side, don’t”. With a guy like Obama as your shield, who needs a sword? Brookings, Zogby and Pew have documented the drastic fall of Obama’s popularity in the Muslim world. His fall is matched by a corresponding popularity of Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who is now 12 times more popular than he is in the Middle Eastern surveys. If the Obama way wins friends and influences people in the Middle East then how come nobody loves him?

One of the reasons given for Obama’s fall in popularity was his perceived inability to hand over parts of what Israel claims to Palestine. What the Muslim world “got” from his Cairo speech was that he would take their side against Israel. But their secret decoder ring didn’t quite work as advertised. Now after being for the mosque, he’s against it. Maybe tomorrow he’ll be for it. It’s reasonable to surmise that President Obama’s courage will win him neither plaudits in the Muslim world nor in Red State America.

Speaking of profiles in courage, the book by the same name was probably not written by John Kennedy but ghost-written by Theodore Sorensen. The connoisseurship of courage was as fake as the author’s name. The classic exchange describing the plagiarism might well apply to Obama and the Mosque.

Some time after April 1957, journalist Drew Pearson appeared as a guest on the The Mike Wallace Interview and made the following claim live on air: “John F. Kennedy is the only man in history that I know who won a Pulitzer Prize for a book that was ghostwritten for him.” Wallace replied “You know for a fact, Drew, that the book Profiles in Courage was written for Senator Kennedy … by someone else?” Pearson responded that he did, and that Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen actually wrote the book. Wallace responded: “And Kennedy accepted a Pulitzer Prize for it? And he never acknowledged the fact?” Pearson replied: “No, he has not. You know, there’s a little wisecrack around the Senate about Jack … some of his colleagues say, ‘Jack, I wish you had a little less profile and more courage.'”

Too bad there wasn’t an Internet then. There is one now.

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