Let’s see if I can make this both coherent and succinct.
President Obama was ethical, responsible, and brave to weigh in on the Ground Zero Mosque (more accurately called “The Two-Blocks From Ground Zero Mosque”), and reaffirm America’s commitment to freedom of religion for all faiths by declaring that the Islamic group has the right to build its planned Islamic center.
After being roundly (and predictably) slammed by conservative talking heads, blogging bigots, and ranting reactionaries for stating the obvious, however, the President (or his advisors; the advisors are the ones who thought this was a dandy time to send Michelle and the kids on a luxury vacation in Spain, and can be identified by the large dunce caps on their heads…) decided to come back and clarify his remarks, lest anyone think he was actually endorsing the idea of an Islamic monument so near the spot where thousands of innocent Americans perished at the hands of Islamic extremists.
“I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there,” Obama told reporters in Panama City, Fla. “I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about.” This statement isn’t quite “I didn’t inhale” or “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” but it is still a solid candidate for the Presidential Weasel Words Hall of Fame. By saying he would not comment, President Obama was commenting, and implying, by saying what he would not comment about, that if he did comment, it would be that the mosque was probably not such a hot idea, since fairly or not, it was bound to be misunderstood as an insult to the victims of 9-11.
It was inappropriate and wrong for Obama to suggest this, in weasel words or otherwise. (It would be more honest and forthright to eschew the weasel word method, however.)
But Jack! (You may be thinking..) Isn’t the President’s position exactly the same as what you posted on Ethics Alarms? Didn’t you write…
“…the Muslims have every right to build their center near Ground Zero…however, …they should build it somewhere else. It is the kind and considerate thing to do.” ?
Indeed I did. And indeed this is the very dichotomy that President Obama is now faintly endorsing, though with plausible deniability—hence the weasel words. And indeed it is right for me to take the position, yet wrong for him to agree with me.
Because Barak Obama is the President of the United States, and I’m not. The President of the United States is the leader of all of us, and has massive power (no matter what his Gallup Poll approval ratings may be) to not only persuade, but to change core attitudes among Americans who have deep respect for his high office and the men who have held it. It is a misuse, in fact, an abuse, of this massive power for the President to use it to register personal or political opinions about local, legal, cultural, or personal disputes and controversies. It is absolutely a proper use of his power, and his duty, to make clear statements regarding rights, responsibilities, national priorities and values. But he is not our national referee, advice columnist or arbiter of good taste, nor is he Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh or Maureen Dowd, and he diminishes his own stature every time he adopts these roles.
President Obama has had a shockingly flat learning curve regarding this limit of legitimate presidential authority. He decided to take sides in the Prof. Gates “racial profiling” debacle, criticizing the Cambridge police. He suggested that free agent basketball star LeBron James might want to sign with his home town Chicago Bulls. He pronounced Massey Energy guilty while an investigation into its role in a mine disaster was still ongoing. What’s next? Declaring who should be the next American Idol judge? Pointing out that the passenger whose luggage set off Steven Slater was at fault too? Announcing that it’s OK to wear flip-flops in church?
Americans are fully capable of arguing these and thousands of other issues without the President of the United States telling them the “right” opinion, even if he does so “without commenting.” The group proposing the mosque has been in the midst of this debate for months; the Anti-Defamation League has weighed in, millions of words have been written about whether it is right or not. The President has no business telling (suggesting, hinting, whispering, using hand signals, charades) the Muslims what “right.”
That’s my job…and yours too.