Our little neighborhood construction flap over whether to build a mosque (which is really like the equivalent of an Islamic version of the Jewish Community Center) near Ground Zero took a huge step onto the national and then international stages over the weekend.
At a Ramadan Iftar dinner at the White House, President Obama stressed that the Constitutional right to religious freedom demanded that a mosque could be built anywhere it was in compliance with local ordinances.
Moving the issue onto the world stage, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas came out supporting the mosque a couple days later.
Republicans, meanwhile, are planning to make the mosque a central theme in midterm elections, and you can expect the mosque to be the new flag pin.
Every election needs a good wedge issue, and the mosque has given the Republicans the perfect one. It’s especially handy, since their good old standby — gay marriage — isn’t working for them nearly as well as it used to.
As Frank Rich pointed out yesterday, “Last week a CNN survey for the first time found that a majority of Americans (52 percent) believed ‘gays and lesbians should have a constitutional right to get married.”
Politico notes the same survey shows that while “68 percent of Americans oppose the construction of the mosque,” it “also found that about half think there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. No political genius is required to decide which issue to run on.”
Nate Silver is saying over at still independent FiveThirtyEight that this strategy is not such a bright idea for the Republicans.
Public opinion is actually far more nuanced on this than the right might be hoping, especially when people are asked about the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero versus whether one should be built there. Writes Silver:
“Essentially, public opinion on this issue is divided into thirds. About a third of the country thinks that not only do the developers have a right to build the mosque, but that it’s a perfectly appropriate thing to do. Another third think that while the development is in poor taste, the developers nevertheless have a right to build it. And the final third think that not only is the development inappropriate, but the developers have no right to build it — perhaps they think that the government should intervene to stop it in some fashion.”
A day after his initial remarks, Obama took pains to point out he was referring to those rights to build, rather than endorsing the project itself. (His spokesman then walked back his walk back.)
But get ready, political observers in Iowa and Kansas. Don’t expect to hear much about corn subsidies or wheat grain prices in the next election cycle. It’s going to be all mosque, all the time. Gays who want to get married will be replaced by Muslims who want to pray (while offering swimming lessons and meeting rooms to the public).