The New York mosque is a classic phony problem, a hate balloon. This poses a dilemna for mainstream pundits who try to treat the demagogues as credible spokespeople for something or other. They want to find some defense for their indefensible rantings, but they would lose their own credibility if they signed on with pure prejudice. So in addition to white-hot nativist denunciations of Muslim places of worship from the know-nothing fringe, we're getting dimwitted soft-bigotry from writers who would be ashamed to throw down with the nuts, but want to keep a line open to them.
Marc Ambinder of the Atlantic deigns to tell us "What Obama Meant to Say about the Mosque." Lest we subscribe to the infantile notion that the President might believe in the Constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion on U.S. soil, he assures us the President's intervention last Friday was mostly about U.S. security -- we have to convince those pesky Muslim countries that we aren't on some kind of crusade, so he has to say these things. And besides, Obama's coalition --"young Americans, modernists, seculars, suburban couples who believe in the virtue of tolerance, members of stigmatized minority groups" -- approve of the President's unpopular breaking of silence. The President's is a "sophisticated position."
But Ambinder is worried about other U.S. citizens who wouldn't understand the President defending the rights of people who affirm a religion that is not (yet) "part of One America."
Over at the New York Times, the resident soft conservative oped ed writer, Ross Douhat is also defending bigotry from elites.
Douhat is a Catholic carrying an ancestral memory of the time, not so long ago, when Catholics were on the receiving end of nativist agitation.
This country has worked, not when Douhat's "first America" coddled its fearful neighbors, but when it asked them to buck up and make the country's ideals a reality.
This poster was a World War II era appeal to the same sentiments that Douhat and Ambinder are so protective of. We know where that led us: the shameful internment of loyal Japanese Americans for which the country is still apologizing. When groups of people are subjected to harm on the basis of prejudice, however seemingly "rational" and "popular," shame follows. We don't have to do this again.
World War II-era propaganda also suggested a better way to deal with difference when the country was under threat. By and large, this was the lesson that triumphed out of that era, as people from many races and backgrounds learned to trust one another as part of a national effort. This took leadership from politicians and, in that crucial moment, we got it.
President Obama could lead far less equivocally in this crucial moment. It's easy to criticize his backsliding on Saturday after his fine statement last Friday. Another of these pundits, Richard Cohen points out that:
I'm not so harsh on the President. He's on the right track -- and his coalition is on the right track -- let's take the country where we know the country must go.