More Muddle at the Post

by Ramesh Ponnuru

The mosque controversy is all over the WaPo today: Milbank and a news piece on A2, an editorial and, on the op-ed page, Cohen, Robinson, and Greg Sargent. Sargent’s target is Harry Reid, whose spokesman says he thinks that the mosque-makers have a First Amendment right to do what they’re doing but shouldn’t do it–which, as Sargent notes, is the position of “many Republicans” (it’s also my view).

In his initial comment, Sargent writes, “The second most powerful Democrat in the country is not willing to support the President in his efforts to defend the right of Muslims to build a cultural center on private property, if the site in question is in the vicinity of Ground Zero.” But Reid has affirmed their legal right, just as Obama has done.

Sargent starts his follow-up thus: “Some are pointing out that Harry Reid, by citing the First Amendment and religious freedom, is reaffirming the group’s right to build the project. That’s true. But it’s not terribly relevant in the current political context.” Back up a second. If it is “true” that Reid is “reaffirming the group’s right to build the project,” then it cannot be true that he is not willing “to defend the right of Muslims to build a cultural center.” If his follow-up comment is right, his initial take was wrong. Would it kill him to say so?

In the paper version of Sargent’s post, he writes, “Reid is parting ways with Obama, who took a big risk to do the right thing in supporting the project. Obama did not explicitly endorse the decision to build the center, but he said that if the group proceeds, we must respect that decision, in accordance with American values. That’s what made Obama’s stance brave.” Greg Sargent has every legal right to split hairs in this ridiculous manner, but the rest of us need not support his exercise of the right.