When the President Agrees With Me, He’s Wrong

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.

Why?

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.

15 thoughts on “When the President Agrees With Me, He’s Wrong

    • I appreciate the humor. You know what I said: His opinion is right (Of course it’s right! It’s the same as mine!): the organization has an undeniable right to build the mosque, but it would have be better for everyone if they didn’t. Because he weaseled, however, Obama can, and I suspect will, deny that he actually holds that opinion, though he wanted to make Americans who hold that opinion think he holds that opinion without really saying so explicitly.

      • I think I disagree. I believe Obama meant just what he said:
        “I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there.”

        I’m where he says he is: I don’t know whether the decision was wise or not. Who can know?

        I’m guessing that the opposition would have flared seriously over any location in Manhattan, just as it has in Murfreesboro and Temecula. Maybe if they had chosen eight blocks away there wouldn’t have been serious opposition. We’ll never know.

        So I think Obama was standing up for principle in the face of budding hysteria–a good thing for President to do, although it will probably cost him some popularity.

        • He was standing for principle…and he should have stopped there. The White House is backtracking—it certainly looks that way. As I said, not only shouldn’t he say whether he would put a mosque there, he shouldn’t venture beyond the obvious–it’s their right. You have to know that the weasel backtracking is politically motivated.

          There are a lot of mosques in NY, some of which have been built since 9-11. I don’t believe the location isn’t the issue.

          • In fact, the more I think about this, the worse it seems. He made an admirable statement about religious freedom. Fine. No further justification necessary. Then the criticism comes, saying he’s sideing with Islam and against it victims. So he comes out and says, in effect,”Now, just to be clear, I want everyone to undertand that I’m not necessarily saying that I think this is a good thing, to build the mosque, or that I would do it if I were them, or that I can’t understand why people are upset about it, or that I’m not upset about it myself. I’m not saying anything about all that. All I said is that if they want to do this, we have to let them.” Now why would he say that unless he wanted to suggest that the move isn’t “wise” without saying so?

  1. Attributing some sort of leadership role to Obama, or anyone else, simply because he holds the high office of President works only if he deserves it. People will recognize a leader when they see one (oops! I guess, unless he’s a silver-tongued, charismatic speaker) and choose to be lead by such a one. If Obama chooses to abuse the position by commenting on and interfering on other subjects that do not preserve the dignity of the office, such as appearing on “The View”, for instance, he deserves the low ratings he’s getting, and the loss of Presidential authority he’s experiencing. I don’t mistake the office of the President, and the potential for dignity and leadership that it holds, with the current occupant.

    • Too harsh, I think. If he’s elected, he deserves it: there’s no virtue, experience, talent or intelligence standards for the job. One can take the “deserving” argument all over the place—Bush was “selected,” Clinton lied to get elected; Bush Sr. rode in on Reagan’s popularity. the elevated VP’s were “accidental,” etc. Each president acquires the mantle and stature of his predecessors—it’s the only way the damn system works.

      • I think it would be naive to believe that ANY of the Presidents don’t lie to become elected. I certainly don’t believe that “if elected, he deserves it (the mantle of authority.” You leave attribution of deserved leadership in the hands of the great masses, who illustrate the worst elements of democracy, even if you believe that elections are held freely and without manipulation in the United States (a tall order indeed.) The Founding Fathers knew what the potential outcome would be if “the people” could vote themselves great largesse from the public purse at no expense to themselves. Politicians have been promising this in ever greater amounts for years. And saying whatever they need to say to get elected. Now that we live in a United States in which the majority, or near-majority of tax return filers pay no tax, or receive net gain, we proceed to the final and dying stages of a once-great nation.

  2. Good heavens! Get a grip, man! All is not lost! Things have been worse! Don’t give up the ship! We Have nothing to fear but fear itself! Did we quit when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Noooo!

  3. “Germans bombed Pearl Harbor.” Huh? A bit of Marshallian humor, I take it. Or perhaps, not having fully awakened from the afternoon nap we “oldsters” are needing more and more nowadays. Indeed, all is not lost, but we must recognize our enemy. The “left-right” paradigm is a distraction from determining the source of our real threat… the globalists and the world bankers among them. The phrase, “if you want to understand a problem, follow the money” never made more sense than in our day. They are just clever enough to make it appear that things “just happen” due to stupidity, misjudgment, general greed and other lack of foresight, when in fact, everything is planned in the cloisters closed to the public, and hidden away by the very mainstream media instruments which they themselves own. When you do the research and understand that you and I are part of their eugenicist plans, perhaps we can revisit this topic.

  4. I am deeply impressed any time a writer can work classic ‘Animal House’ into deft and lucid commentary. You Sir, are on fire today.

  5. Pingback: President Obama

  6. Pingback: Tweets that mention When the President Agrees With Me, He’s Wrong « Ethics Alarms -- Topsy.com

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