By lex, on August 15th, 2010
Many people have a verbal tic, or crutch. Our president has his own, especially when speechifying: “Let me be clear.”
It’s an unfortunate turn of phrase. Not only is it redolent of Richard Nixon’s “Let me make one thing perfectly clear,” it also contains within it the implicit admission that one has not heretofore been clear at all, while simultaneously bearing the risk of protesting too much. Too often, what follows after “let me be clear” isn’t clear at all:
“Let me be absolutely clear about what health reform means for you,” he said in July. “. . . It will keep government out of health-care decisions. It will give you the option to keep your insurance if you’re happy with it.” In fact, the government’s role in health care would increase under the legislation, and the changes would, in all likelihood, result in many people ending up with different coverage through reasons not of their own choosing.”
What isn’t clear to me is why President Obama chose this particular moment to weigh in on the location of the Cordoba House:
Recently, attention has been focused on the construction of mosques in certain communities – particularly in New York. Now, we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of lower Manhattan. The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country. The pain and suffering experienced by those who lost loved ones is unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.
But let me be clear: as a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.
Perhaps still feeling singed by his last national foray into what had been a local political issue, the president had wisely resisted inserting himself into the Cordoba House controversy. After all, things are generally moving in the direction the president appears to favor, the mosque built practically upon the ashes of the 9/11 attack has indeed been green-lighted through the New York City government and the lame duck governor of New York has dutifully wagged his censorious finger at anyone who isn’t enthusiastically on board. So long as the funding comes through – never mind where it’s coming from – the Cordoba House will be set to open on September 11th 2011, the ten year anniversary of the most murderous attack on the US homeland in history. Which had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam.
Perhaps the president was infused by the warm glow of companionship at the Ramadan iftar dinner he was celebrating. But, no: His speech came from a prepared text.
Perhaps the president felt that a strong 1st Amendment defense would shore up sagging support among his liberal base. Maybe, but it seems to me that secular progressive ardor for mosque building on private property is closely related to their antipathy towards créche displays on public property – not so much a first order priority in itself as a second order opportunity to tweak the noses of the bible totin’, gun ownin’, bitter clinging set. Good sport, as far as it goes, put them in their place and all, but not likely to engage progressive ardor so vigorously as single payer health care or radical wealth re-distribution. In the name of fairness. He certainly did no favors to House Democrats running for re-election in traditionally conservative states, who would very much like to talk about something, anything else.
Perhaps as chief executive, he felt it necessary to intervene on a subject of federal law: But I don’t think so – nearly everyone agrees that the Cordoba House sponsors are perfectly within their rights to build their mosque pretty much wherever they like. A majority of Americans however, feel that building it nearly atop this “hallowed ground” is rather a shitty thing to do. Some even deem it characteristically insensitive, even triumphal. Many have had enough of the forces of intolerance flashing the victim card.
No, I believe that this particular stance has less to do with bonhomie, partisan advantage or legal obligation than it has to do with self-image. As a candidate, the president ran as a transformational figure, someone who would put aside the partisan nastiness that had plagued Washington at least since Newt Gingrich shut down government, giving Bill Clinton a few idle hours with a White House intern. And perhaps even before that.
I believe that President Obama saw this as a “leadership” opportunity, keeping in mind that leadership often involves taking people where they ordinarily would prefer not to go. It would offer our Educator in Chief yet another “teachable moment”, an opportunity that the former associate law professor from Chicago could scarcely let pass. After all, he has expended what political capital he had from his inauguration. His signal legislation had to do with reforming the American health care system, one-sixth of the economy and no mean feat – Bill Clinton couldn’t do it. He is engaged in transformation of the nation’s banking system, has nationalized two of the big three automakers, expended unprecedented sums in the hope of re-invigorating the economy, apologized in serial fashion for American transgressions abroad, ordered the closing of the Guantanamo Bay gulag, “returned science to its rightful place”, sent another 20,000 troops to Afghanistan after deliberate consideration and placing them on the clock, is set to preside over the largest tax increase in American history and has halted off-shore oil drilling.
It’s been a busy, busy 18 months. Global Warming will have to wait.
So, what do you do with yourself, while hoping for the economy to recover and give you a second shot at history? You appeal to our better angels, evoke the ties that bind us, stake out the moral high ground and insert yourself where other, less transformational figures, might fear to tread.
Unfortunately for the most progressive president since FDR, his political achievements have taken a moderately conservative nation much further to the left than they wanted to go and they did so using exactly the same kind of partisan foolishness that the president promised would become anachronistic after his election. “I won,” and that. To what end?
Guantanamo remains open, and the feds want into your browsing history. After throwing a trillion dollar log on the fire the jobless rate is still 58% higher than when John F. Kerry bewailed George W. Bush’s “jobless recovery.” Most everyone wants to give the president the benefit of the doubt on Afghanistan, but doubts continue to multiply. No one really has any notion how the health care reform bill will play out over time, even though, having passed the bill, we can now find out what’s in it.* Uncertain what the future holds, people are paying down debt and banks are stuffing cash under the mattresses. Iranian centrifuges are busily at work enriching Uranium. And in the face of the world’s most populous nation flexing its military muscles in a region of critical economic importance, we talk about how quickly an economy critically dependent upon world trade can draw down the military power which guarantees its economic freedom.
What America needs is leadership that will help us regain our confidence. What we’re getting is leadership that is tutoring us on the virtues of tolerance.
Let me be clear: We have no time for that, no need and even less patience.
* 10-09-2018 Link Gone; no replacements found – Ed.