Like ballplayers, politicians get into bad streaks. You have to wonder when the slide will stop for President Obama.
He had wisely stayed far away from Ground Zero/mosque issue. But in a span of 24-hours, he not only damaged himself politically, but also set in motion a chain of events that could drag down some Democrats in November.
When Obama hosted a dinner at the White House celebrating the Holy Month of Ramadan, the pressure on him to take a stand grew. And so he tackled the issue, and seemed to forcefully endorse the idea of building the mosque. That was on Friday. But by Saturday, August 14 things had changed.
The White House "clarified" his statement. Then Obama followed up with his own clarification. The President was apparently endorsing the right to build the mosque, but not "the wisdom" of actually building it. Okay, glad we clarified that!
Mayor Bloomberg has been much clearer on the issue. He says it’s a test of the separation church and state, "as important a test as we may see in our lifetimes." He says that firefighters who ran into the buildings never asked, "Where do you pray?" The Mayor then cranked up the rhetoric, saying, "A handful of people should be ashamed of themselves."
I’ve heard from plenty of 9/11 family members who have no problem with the First Amendment to the Constitution, or the separation of church and state. They don’t hate Muslims. They are not bigots. But the idea of putting a mosque so close to Ground Zero just doesn’t feel right. It offends their senses. To them, it is not a question of law. It’s about sensitivity. Do the mosque planners have the right to build? Absolutely. Should they? That’s another question.
As columnist Charles Krauthammer writes, "In America, you cannot build wherever you want. No liquor stores next to schools, no strip malls where they offend local sensibilities, and if your house doesn’t meet community architectural codes, you cannot build at all."
But mosque proponents point out that businesses surrounding the sacred area of ground zero include a "Pussycat Lounge" and the "Thunder Lingerie and Peep Show."
Congressmember Peter King says he would like to see zoning laws to clean up the area.
He would also like the planners of the mosque to sit down with some 9/11 families in order to begin a dialogue.
Unfortunately, with President Obama once again inserting himself into a New York City issue, both sides will likely dig in their heels. And the mosque debate will hit the airwaves all across the nation, with both republicans and democrats using it as a political weapon. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a desperate fight to keep his seat, has come out against the mosque.
It would have been nice if the President had tried to make this a teachable moment (remember his famous beer summit?). Instead we got a weekend of politically-driven statements and counter-clarifications.
It would have been nice if the Mayor also tried to promote a dialogue on the issue, rather than pointing fingers, and ridiculing people like Governor Paterson, who tried to suggest a compromise, however legally flawed.
But instead, an issue that is so painful for many of our 9/11 families has become a political football. And the political season is just getting started. firstname.lastname@example.org.