Saturday, August 14, 2010

Profile in Courage or Political Death Wish?

Barack Hussein Obama could have avoided this one, declaring the issue of a mosque near Ground Zero a local decision, as his Press Secretary has done for weeks, but the 44th President has taken his cue from the 35th by coming out in favor of building it.

In a "Profiles in Courage" moment, he declares: "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 most ardent Obama haters will have trouble finding political calculation in a position opposed by 68 percent of voters in a CNN poll as well as a range of noisy voices from Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin to the Anti-Defamation League.

Acknowledging the pain of the 9/11 families, the President sees a larger issue: “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam--it is a gross distortion of Islam. In fact, Al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion, and that list includes innocent Muslims who were killed on 9/11.”

At least one victim's survivor agrees with him. Charles Wolf, who lost his wife that day, argues that "we were attacked...because of all the tenets in the First Amendment, freedom of press, freedom of religion, freedom of speech. And for us to then roll back the freedom of religion, to me, is just falling right into their hands."

New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is not facing an angry electorate, has declared that denying the mosque would be "untrue to the best part of ourselves" and the firefighters and police killed in the World Trade Center: "We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting."

Such large-heartedness is hard to sustain in the face of raw emotion, particularly for a president with falling approval ratings faced with loss of control in one or both houses of Congress only weeks from now.

His Profiles in Courage moment is remarkable, even though and perhaps particularly because so many will see it as a political Death Wish.

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