Greg Sargent: Obama’s Unqualified Support for the Ground Zero Mosque Is a Defining Moment for His Presidency, and Shows the Kind of Courage that Proves . . . Huh? He Said What Now?
One of the finest moments of Obama’s presidency
A few quick thoughts about Obama’s forceful speech yesterday expressing strong support for Cordoba House, which will go down as one of the finest moments of his presidency.
Obama didn’t just stand up for the legal right of the group to build the Islamic center. He voiced powerful support for their moral right to do so as well, casting it as central to American identity. This is a critical point, and it goes to the the essence of why his speech was so commendable.
Many opponents of the project have been employing a clever little dodge. They say they don’t question the group’s legal right to build it under the Constitution. Rather, they say, they’re merely criticizing the group’s decision to do so, on the grounds that it’s insensitive to 9/11 families and will undercut the project’s goal of reconciliation. The group has the right to build the center, runs this argument, but they are wrong to exercise it. In response, Obama could have merely cast this dispute as a Constitutional issue, talked about how important it is to hew to that hallowed document, and moved on.
But Obama went much further than that. He asserted that we must “welcome” and “respect” those of other faiths, suggesting that the group behind the center deserves the same, and said flat out that anything less is un-American . . . .
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Obama issued this statement in the full knowledge that his opponents have been itching for him to wade into this battle. . . . Yet Obama entered the fray anyway, in dramatic fashion, asserting that our identy [sic] rests on “our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us.” . . . . [T]his couldn’t have come at a better time for Obama. His core supporters, frustrated, were badly in need of a display of presidential spine. They got one.
Ultimately, though, Obama’s speech transcends the politics of the moment, and will go down as a defining and perhaps even a breakthrough performance. Obama recognized that this dispute is a seminal one that goes to the core of our running argument about pluralism and minority rights and to the core of who we are. He understood that the gravity of the moment required an equally large and momentous response. And he delivered.
UPDATE, 8:21 p.m.: Did Obama really walk back his support for the project?