Obama’s mosque comments: A coherent view, obscured by stupid pandering. 

We’ve learned a few things from the mosque controversy. For one thing, that some of the conservatives opposing the project are less committed to property rights and religious freedom than they let on.

But the more serious argument against the mosque is made by those who believe it should not be prevented legally, but is simply an unnecessary and unwise provocation. On the other side are those who want to see it built as a monument to American tolerance and freedom of religious expression.

This is not about banning anything. I’d present this as a similar example: Jews object strongly to mass campaigns by Born-Again Christians to proselytize Jews, but I have yet to meet a Jew who wants to make such evangelism illegal. Michael Kinsley should be forgiven for not understanding that there is an enormous difference between banning something and shunning it, the latter of which is as much a first amendment activity as is building a mosque. This is a liberal blind spot caused by their knee-jerk rush to ban everything they perceive as bad.

President Obama said Friday,  that he supports the right of the property owners to build the mosque. The following day, he “clarified,” saying he doesn’t necessarily think the project is wise. Today, Howard Kurtz asks the question at the heart of the controversy, insofar as it concerns Obama himself:

Couldn’t he have said everything he wanted on Friday, rather than having to clarify or expand or backtrack on Saturday? The result is that he’s made both sides unhappy.

Taken together, Obama’s two statements present a coherent view — and a view with which I personally agree. But Obama is a politician with a very keen sense of how his words go over. He said what he wanted the public to hear the first time he spoke. The second part came under pressure.

I have no reason to doubt that Obama believes both statements, but the two together would have conveyed a message he did not want to convey. There is no good way to pander to Muslim voters and first amendment liberals, or to exploit the issue politically, if you imply that you personally oppose the mosque but believe strongly that you have no business preventing it.

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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