Wednesday, August 18, 2010

MoDo on Obama's Walk-Back of Mosque Comments: The President Fumbles Again

Meanwhile (linking to what I have just posted about U.S. churches and the bogus "ground-zero mosque" controversy: Maureen Dowd at the New York Times gets it just about right, as she looks at how President Obama walked back his sane, principled defense of the right of a religious group to build a community center on one day, with a comment the following day parsing the meaning of "is."

As Dowd notes, this walk-back might not disturb us if it had come from Mr. Clinton, who never presented himself as a man of strong, unyielding principle--as Mr. Obama did in his campaign:

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are both hyper-articulate former law professors. But Clinton never presented himself as a moral guide to the country. So when he weaseled around, or triangulated on some issues, it was part of his ultra-fallible persona — and consistent with his identity as a New Democrat looking for a Third Way.

But Obama presents himself as a paragon of high principle. So when he flops around on things like “don’t ask, don’t tell” or shrinks back from one of his deepest beliefs about the freedom of religion anywhere and everywhere in America, it’s not pretty. Even worse, this is the man who staked his historical reputation on a new and friendlier engagement with the Muslim world. The man who extended his hand to Tehran has withdrawn his hand from Park Place.

Once again, a president who campaigned with strong promises to change the way we do business in our political culture has allowed the rabid right to frame the terms of a non-debate, and to use the debate to expose his calculating, pragmatist willingness to waffle on issues re: which a demonstration of strong principle is essential to his ability to lead.