We did not then spend much time on the almost-not-quite-at-Ground Zero
Mosque controversy. But President Obama's recent defense of the
builders' religious liberties has made it hard to avoid.
Normally these yahoos provide the biggest laugh lines in this column.
But this week we'll let them alone, and limit ourselves to the big-time
rightbloggers -- the kind who write for major publications, get big
traffic, write op-eds for the New York Times, etc.
Because those guys were basically saying the same thing as the yahoos -- just more fancy-like.
When Obama spoke on the subject
at a Ramadan observance Friday night, he allowed as how "we must all
recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of
Lower Manhattan." But he also strongly defended the mosque-builders'
religious rights: "As a citizen, and as President, I believe that
Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else
in this country. And 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."
Being the President of the United States, he could hardly have spoken against those rights, even though polls show the mosque is wildly unpopular (except in Manhattan -- where the thing is actually to be built).
Rightbloggers, however, were under no such constraints.
Probably no single source has been as vociferously anti-mosque as National Review. Once upon a time, the 56-year-old magazine endeavored to keep American conservatism respectable by purging it of loons like the John Birchers. Well, son, them days is loooong gone.
The anti-mosque charge was led by former Assistant United States
Attorney Andy McCarthy. Earlier in the controversy, the former Bush
Imam Feisal Rauf's fling to the Persian Gulf region," and "our
government's promotion of the sharia-touting imam as an emissary."
When it was later pointed out that Rauf had done similar duty for the Bush Administration, McCarthy sputtered that this was "The 'Bush Did It' Defense of the Ground Zero Mosque Imam." But then he admitted that Bush did,
in fact, do it -- and lashed out at "the Bush administration's foolish
forays into 'Islamic outreach'" while he was in the Administration.
McCarthy seemed not to admit culpability for the actions of his team,
though; in fact, he instead congratulated himself for not leaking his
displeasure to the Washington Post while in office, and for
waiting until "the second I left government in 2003" to begin denouncing
it on a regular basis. One wonders why he didn't leave sooner if the
subject were so important to him; maybe he had balloon payments to meet,
or a resume to pad.
When Obama made his remarks, McCarthy retained his customary tone, declaring that "The President Stands with Sharia...
the president has long been governing against the will of the American
people... Given the choice between the 9/11 Families for a Safe &
Strong America and ISNA, Obama chooses ISNA." (ISNA is the Islamic Society of North America, which holds interfaith meetings with Jews and Christians -- and with organizations such as the Boy Scouts -- while being regularly accused of abetting terrorists by right-wingers.)
"How stupid does Obama think we are?... Democrats are reeling over the
President's decision to side with the Muslim Brotherhood over the
American people by endorsing the Ground Zero mosque. So he's trying to
close Pandora's Box." McCarthy also accused Obama of "cowardice,"
probably for trying to explain himself to people like McCarthy as if
they were reasonable.
National Review's David Pryce-Jones
said the mosque was "not about freedom of worship, it is a statement of
supremacy and conquest" -- a seemingly approving reference to the
notion popular among the mentally ill that the mosque is being built to celebrate the 9/11 attacks.
"Non-Muslims are not allowed any place of worship in Saudi Arabia,"
continued Pryce-Jones, "they cannot even approach within miles of the
cities of Medina and Mecca." This refers to yet another popular though idiotic trope: That America should show only as much toleration of minority religions as is shown by theocratic Middle Eastern states.
Former National Review staffer Byron York, writing in the Washington Examiner,
said Obama's clarification "pulls rug from under mosque supporters."
This was unnecessary, York claimed, because "most mosque opponents
concede the Muslim group's legal right to place the mosque in the
planned site. They just argue that it's a terrible idea and have
appealed to the organizers to cancel the project." ("Appeal" is an odd
word for the torrents of abuse that have been visited on the planners,
but it should be clear by now that these people have as little respect
for language as they have for the Constitution.)
Though he attacked the President for vacillating, York announced that
there was "simply no doubt" that Obama's speech was "an endorsement of
the Ground Zero project," not a mere defense of their rights. His proof?
Local papers had run headlines like "Allah Right By Me" -- an
endorsement of the reporting skills of the "Lame Stream Media" rarely
heard from conservative pundits -- and York's own refusal to see the
difference between asserting a Constitutional right and endorsing its
use (a tactic familiar from the days when liberals opposed the passing
of an amendment prohibiting flag-burning, and conservatives claimed this was because liberals wanted to burn flags).
In a final insult of the sort his followers would recognize as
dispositive, York compared Obama to Bill Clinton. "From now on, with
Obama, as it was with Clinton," warned York, "the rule is: Don't listen
to the speech. Read the words very carefully." Because he's tricky that
way -- his speeches may sound a certain way to your average
conservative, but once you stop screaming at the TV and read it, it
turns out to say something different!
In other rightwing publications, you saw plenty of other, similarly
incendiary statements ("[Obama's] sympathies for the Muslim World take
precedence over those, such as they are, for his fellow citizens" -- Commentary).
What you didn't see were demurrers that, of course, they meant nothing
against, and supported the rights, of their Muslim-American friends --
either because it wasn't true, or because they didn't have any.
Some rightbloggers didn't bother to think up excuses for anti-Muslim
hatred, though, and simply luxuriated in the fact that Obama, having
stood on principle against public opinion, had given a political opening
"The Democrats would love to do the same thing to the Republicans," claimed Ann Althouse.
"They wouldn't hesitate to exploit something that captures the public's
attention and provides leverage for the political arguments they like
to make. Remember the Mark Foley incident in 2006." Althouse failed to
mention what Constitutional principle was represented by Foley's page predations while in Congress. (Freedom of association?)
Others insisted that even in bucking the polls, Obama was somehow being
craven. "We can only guess at what polling entrails revealed to the
Leader of the Free World that it was okay to spit in the face of the
overwhelming majority of his fellow Americans who oppose the building of
an Islamic tower in the psychological shadow of what once was the Twin
Towers," gasped Sisu.
And, oh Jesus, when they got into the thought experiments... prominent rightwing screamery Town Hall
riddled us this: "Would President Obama speak out in support of a
minister... if a self-identified 'moderate' Christian sought to erect a
giant church at, say, a site where radicals claiming to be Christians
had murdered 3000 abortion clinic doctors, so long as the construction
was done in 'accordance with local laws and ordinances'?" There's only
one possible response to this kind of argument: Huh?
The Atlantic's Megan McArdle
attacked mosque supporter Michael Bloomberg with what she must have
imagined was sarcasm: "All I can say is, I'm glad to hear that Michael
Bloomberg has suddenly discovered that there are some restrictions on
the government's ability to dictate the uses of private property."
If you're wondering where she got the idea that the billionaire Mayor of
New York isn't a fan of private property, McArdle cited Kelo v. City of New London, which had nothing to do with Michael Bloomberg, and the Atlantic Yards project, a subject which, though well-covered at Runnin' Scared, seems to have entirely escaped McArdle's attention until this post. Oh, wait -- in her previous incarnation as "Jane Galt" she did address the Atlantic Yards project -- once -- and seemed okay with it
("How does even the most left-wing politician believe that there is
some way to improve the housing situation of the poor without, well,
building more houses?").
And so on. With extremely rare exceptions, you can go now through all
rightwing sites and publications, from the high-end to the low, and find
the same thing: A willingness -- actually, a puppy-like eagerness --
to exploit the basest religious and racial fears for political gain.
(More than usual, we mean.)
We might adopt a lofty pose, scratch our chins, and say this speaks
poorly of the state of the conservative movement. But whom would we be
kidding? There is no conservative movement, intellectually
speaking -- merely a consortium of crackpots and bigots who believe that
gays are threatening their marriages, rich people are overtaxed, black
people are the real racists, and the building of a mosque at the site of
a disused Burlington Coat Factory somewhere near Ground Zero presents a
About the most charitable thing you could say for them is: Maybe they're only pretending to believe this nonsense.
Edroso's Rightbloggers: Exploring the right Wing Blogosphere
appears courtesy of our sister paper in New York City, Village Voice.