We did not then spend much time on the almost-not-quite-at-Ground Zero Mosque controversy. But President Obama’s recent defense of the builders’ religious liberties has made it hard to avoid.
Responses by junior-grade rightbloggers were as one might expect: “Obama has Surrendered and Submitted to islam,” “Obama is in favor of desecrating Ground Zero,” etc ad nauseum.
Normally these yahoos provide the biggest laugh lines in this column. But this week we’ll let them alone, and limit ourselves to the big-time rightbloggers — the kind who write for major publications, get big traffic, write op-eds for the New York Times, etc.
Because those guys were basically saying the same thing as the yahoos — just more fancy-like.
When Obama spoke on the subject at a Ramadan observance Friday night, he allowed as how “we must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan.” But he also strongly defended the mosque-builders’ religious rights: “As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And 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.”
Being the President of the United States, he could hardly have spoken against those rights, even though polls show the mosque is wildly unpopular (except in Manhattan — where the thing is actually to be built).
Rightbloggers, however, were under no such constraints.
Probably no single source has been as vociferously anti-mosque as National Review. Once upon a time, the 56-year-old magazine endeavored to keep American conservatism respectable by purging it of loons like the John Birchers. Well, son, them days is loooong gone.
The anti-mosque charge was led by former Assistant United States Attorney Andy McCarthy. Earlier in the controversy, the former Bush Administration official had raged at the Obama State Department for “footing the bill for [NYC mosque] Imam Feisal Rauf’s fling to the Persian Gulf region,” and “our government’s promotion of the sharia-touting imam as an emissary.”
When it was later pointed out that Rauf had done similar duty for the Bush Administration, McCarthy sputtered that this was “The ‘Bush Did It’ Defense of the Ground Zero Mosque Imam.” But then he admitted that Bush did, in fact, do it — and lashed out at “the Bush administration’s foolish forays into ‘Islamic outreach'” while he was in the Administration.
McCarthy seemed not to take responsibility for the actions of his teammates, though; in fact, he instead congratulated himself for not leaking his displeasure to the Washington Post while in office, and for waiting until “the second I left government in 2003” to begin denouncing it on a regular basis. One wonders why he didn’t leave sooner if the subject were so important to him; maybe he had balloon payments to meet, or a resume to pad.
When Obama made his remarks, McCarthy retained his customary tone, declaring that “The President Stands with Sharia… the president has long been governing against the will of the American people… Given the choice between the 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America and ISNA, Obama chooses ISNA.” (ISNA is the Islamic Society of North America, which holds interfaith meetings with Jews and Christians — and with organizations such as the Boy Scouts — while being regularly accused of abetting terrorists by right-wingers.)
When the President reiterated that his remarks were about freedom of religion (“that’s what our country is about”), McCarthy snarled, “How stupid does Obama think we are?… Democrats are reeling over the President’s decision to side with the Muslim Brotherhood over the American people by endorsing the Ground Zero mosque. So he’s trying to close Pandora’s Box.” McCarthy also accused Obama of “cowardice,” probably for trying to explain himself to people like McCarthy as if they were reasonable.
National Review‘s David Pryce-Jones said the mosque was “not about freedom of worship, it is a statement of supremacy and conquest” — a seemingly approving reference to the notion popular among the mentally ill that the mosque is being built to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.
“Non-Muslims are not allowed any place of worship in Saudi Arabia,” continued Pryce-Jones, “they cannot even approach within miles of the cities of Medina and Mecca.” This refers to yet another popular though idiotic trope: That America should show only as much toleration of minority religions as is shown by theocratic Middle Eastern states.
Former National Review staffer Byron York, writing in the Washington Examiner, said Obama’s clarification “pulls rug from under mosque supporters.” This was unnecessary, York claimed, because “most mosque opponents concede the Muslim group’s legal right to place the mosque in the planned site. They just argue that it’s a terrible idea and have appealed to the organizers to cancel the project.” (“Appeal” is an odd word for the torrents of abuse that have been visited on the planners, but it should be clear by now that these people have as little respect for language as they have for the Constitution.)
Though he attacked the President for vacillating, York announced that there was “simply no doubt” that Obama’s speech was “an endorsement of the Ground Zero project,” not a mere defense of their rights. His proof? Local papers had run headlines like “Allah Right By Me” — an endorsement of the reporting skills of the “Lame Stream Media” rarely heard from conservative pundits — and York’s own refusal to see the difference between asserting a Constitutional right and endorsing its use (a tactic familiar from the days when liberals opposed the passing of an amendment prohibiting flag-burning, and conservatives claimed this was because liberals wanted to burn flags).
In a final insult of the sort his followers would recognize as dispositive, York compared Obama to Bill Clinton. “From now on, with Obama, as it was with Clinton,” warned York, “the rule is: Don’t listen to the speech. Read the words very carefully.” Because he’s tricky that way — his speeches may sound like one thing to your average conservative, but once he stops screaming at the TV and reads it, it turns out to say something different!
In other rightwing publications, you saw plenty of similarly incendiary statements (“[Obama’s] sympathies for the Muslim World take precedence over those, such as they are, for his fellow citizens” — Commentary). What you didn’t see were demurrers that, of course, they meant nothing against, and supported the rights, of their Muslim-American friends — either because it wasn’t true, or because they didn’t have any.
Some rightbloggers didn’t bother to think up excuses for anti-Muslim hatred, though, and simply luxuriated in the fact that Obama, having stood on principle against public opinion, had given a political opening to Republicans.
“The Democrats would love to do the same thing to the Republicans,” claimed Ann Althouse. “They wouldn’t hesitate to exploit something that captures the public’s attention and provides leverage for the political arguments they like to make. Remember the Mark Foley incident in 2006.” Althouse failed to mention what Constitutional principle was represented by Foley’s page predations while in Congress. (Freedom of association?)
Others insisted that even in bucking the polls, Obama was somehow being craven. “We can only guess at what polling entrails revealed to the Leader of the Free World that it was okay to spit in the face of the overwhelming majority of his fellow Americans who oppose the building of an Islamic tower in the psychological shadow of what once was the Twin Towers,” gasped Sisu.
And, oh Jesus, when they got into the thought experiments… prominent rightwing screamery Town Hall riddled us this: “Would President Obama speak out in support of a minister… if a self-identified ‘moderate’ Christian sought to erect a giant church at, say, a site where radicals claiming to be Christians had murdered 3000 abortion clinic doctors, so long as the construction was done in ‘accordance with local laws and ordinances’?” There’s only one possible response to this kind of argument: Huh?
The Atlantic‘s Megan McArdle attacked mosque supporter Michael Bloomberg with what she must have imagined was sarcasm: “All I can say is, I’m glad to hear that Michael Bloomberg has suddenly discovered that there are some restrictions on the government’s ability to dictate the uses of private property.”
If you’re wondering where she got the idea that the billionaire Mayor of New York isn’t a fan of private property, McArdle cited Kelo v. City of New London, which had nothing to do with Michael Bloomberg, and the Atlantic Yards project, a subject which, though well-covered at Runnin’ Scared, seems to have entirely escaped McArdle’s attention until this post. Oh, wait — in her previous incarnation as “Jane Galt” she did address the Atlantic Yards project — once — and seemed okay with it (“How does even the most left-wing politician believe that there is some way to improve the housing situation of the poor without, well, building more houses?”).
And so on. With extremely rare exceptions, you can go now through all rightwing sites and publications, from the high-end to the low, and find the same thing: A willingness — actually, an puppy-like eagerness — to exploit the basest religious and racial fears for political gain. (More than usual, we mean.)
We might adopt a lofty pose, scratch our chins, and say this speaks poorly of the state of the conservative movement. But whom would we be kidding? There is no conservative movement, intellectually speaking — merely a consortium of crackpots and bigots who believe that gays are threatening their marriages, rich people are overtaxed, black people are the real racists, and the building of a mosque at the site of a disused Burlington Coat Factory somewhere near Ground Zero presents a graver danger to American liberty than the other mosques already near Ground Zero.
About the most charitable thing you could say for them is: Maybe they’re only pretending to believe this nonsense.