Obama's 'Ground Zero Mosque' Two-Step

Republicans prepare to run with the issue in upcoming elections

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The controversy surrounding Park 51, a Muslim community center to be built two blocks from Ground Zero, gained renewed currency this weekend. On Friday, President Obama appeared to support the center's organizers, saying "Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country." However, on Saturday, Obama clarified his remarks. "I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there," he said. "I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding." Pouncing on the issue, House Minority Leader John Boehner called Obama's apparent support of the center "deeply troubling." With national leaders of both parties weighing in on the subject, one thing's clear: the so-called '9/11 Mosque' controversy isn't going anywhere:

  • This Issue Just Went National, writes Reid Wilson at Hotline: "Obama and Boehner don't often work together. But this weekend, the 2 combined to make sure the so-called Ground Zero Mosque leaps from the cable news triumvirate to the editorial pages of every local paper. While Obama's comments drew near-universal praise from his base... that's not something an endangered Dem congressman in the middle of the country wants to read when he or she picks up the Sunday paper."
  • Republicans See a Political Opportunity, writes Ben Smith and Maggie Haberman at Politico: "The harsh Republican response to President Barack Obama's defense of a mosque near ground zero marks a dramatic shift in the party's posture toward Islam— from a once active courtship of Muslim voters to a very public tolerance after Sept. 11 to an openly aired sense of mistrust. Republican leaders have largely abandoned former President George W. Bush's post-Sept. 11 rhetorical embrace of American Muslims and his insistence — always controversial inside the party — that Islam is a religion of peace. This weekend, former Bush aides were among the very few Republicans siding with Obama, as many of the party's leaders have moved toward more vocal denunciations of Islam's role in violence abroad and suspicion of its place at home."
  • Obama's Speech Was Very Clintonian, writes Byron York at the Washington Examiner: "There is simply no doubt that Obama's Friday evening speech, in the context in which it was delivered, was an endorsement of the Ground Zero project... But on Saturday, Obama said all those listeners were wrong, that they misunderstood him. Several years ago, there was a word for Obama's rhetorical technique: Clintonian. Like the former president, Obama spoke words he knew would be understood as having a particular meaning in a particular context. He also knew that those same words, when examined closely outside that context, might also be interpreted as having a different meaning. In that sense, the mosque affair is a good lesson for both supporters and opponents of the president. From now on, with Obama, as it was with Clinton, the rule is: Don't listen to the speech. Read the words very carefully."
  • This Is a Winning Issue for Democrats, writes Jonathan Chait in The New Republic: "I think this will pay long-term political dividends for Democrats. There's a classic pattern of Democrats cementing the allegience of minority groups by standing up for them when those groups sit outside the mainstream culture, and thus when there's a real political price to defending them. Fifty years from now, Muslims will be voting heavily Democratic because they'll remember that Obama defended their rights when it was unpopular to do so. Of course that won't help Obama, but it's impressive to see him stand on principle. Bush could have taken this position without suffering politically. Obama doesn't have that luxury."
  • Obama Is Wrong on This, says Democrat Jeff Green, who is running for the U.S. Senate in Florida: "President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero. Freedom of religion might provide the right to build the mosque in the shadow of Ground Zero, but common sense and respect for those who lost their lives and loved ones gives sensible reason to build the mosque someplace else. President Obama had the chance to show leadership by calling on the mosque's supporters to find a more appropriate location."
  • How Do You Know What 9/11 Victims Want? questions Michael Kinsley at The Atlantic Wire: "Presumably the 9/11 families don't speak in unison. Some of them, of course, are Muslims. Others may be liberals or even card-carrying ACLU members. (This was New York after all.) Some may actually like the idea of a Muslim center radiating ecumenical vibes right near Ground Zero. Is there any reason that the wishes of these victims should be trumped by the wishes of other victims?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.