The Campaign Spot

I Doubt He’ll Listen to Me

Dear Mark Halperin,

Your moment is now.

This weekend, President Obama “Strongly Back[ed the] Islam Center Near 9/11 Site,” as the New York Times informed us Saturday morning, shortly before he clarified that he hadn’t meant to actually endorse the center, merely the right of the project organizers to practice their religion freely.

Yes, Mark Halperin, you can take advantage of this heated circumstance, backed by the administration and most of the loudest voices in the mainstream media, by denouncing any mention of this on the campaign trail as political opportunism, Islamophobia, and somehow a victory for al-Qaeda. (If mosques in Manhattan were sufficient to deter the motivation for Islamist terror, 9/11 never would have occurred. As we’re constantly reminded, the 9/11 attacks killed Muslims. Al-Qaeda has never been particularly choosy or focused about who they kill.)

But please don’t do it. There are a handful of good reasons to support allowing the Islamic center to be built so close to Ground Zero, particularly if you take the organizers’ claims of noble motives at face value.

But what is happening now — the misinformation about the center and those who oppose it; the open accusations of mosque opponents’ “war on Islam” in magazines and on television, the Internet and other forums; the painful divisions propelled by all the overheated rhetoric — is not worth whatever political gain or sense of self-satisfaction you and those who agree with you might achieve.

Democrats have a strong chance to lose the midterm elections without attempting to paint those who disagree with the president as bigots, or a full-throated defense of President Obama’s oh-so-measured and then remeasured and then adjusted and readjusted words. There’s no need for media commentators or Democrats to insist the majority of Americans are driven by hatred on this issue; they’re already doing so on Arizona’s immigration law, California’s gay-marriage law, the investigations of Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters, the desire to see voter intimidation in Philadelphia prosecuted, and opposition to most Obama policies.

A national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days — i.e., a knee-jerk denunciation of the majority of the American people as hateful and bigoted against Muslims — will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner — the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy.

As I said, Mark Halperin, this is your moment. As a famous New Yorker once urged in a very different context: Do the right thing.

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