Thursday, August 19, 2010

Political capital and the Ground Zero mosque

The proposal to erect a mosque near Ground Zero poses something of a quandary for Democrats and the president. President Obama has defended the rights of the people involved to build the mosque, which is, of course, the right thing to do. The protection of religious minorities is an important part of the American experiment, certainly. But is it the most strategic move?

With 62% of Americans opposing the construction of the mosque (a number most likely inflated because most people don't seem to realize that the mosque and Islamic center wouldn't be on the actual Ground Zero property, just near it), Democrats and Obama are spending some serious political capital and assuming a modicum of risk in an election year. Of course, the most admirably idealistic among us may say strategy be damned in the face of ethics, but I think weighing the cost is worth discussing. Is this a big enough issue to swing a few close races in the midterms? It seems as such, at least in New York, where a number of Democratic congressional nominees are opposing the project. What cost will a few more losses in the midterms have on the Obama agenda going forward? Will this resurface in 2012 (I'm thinking of heinous right-wing attack ads in Ohio, Michigan, Virginia, etc.)? At what point do we consider the greater good of a more successful Obama agenda vis-a-vis taking a stand on this particular issue?

This is an interesting battle for the President to weigh in on-- I'm wondering if "no comment" would have been a better play. Obama isn't totally innocent of this kind of Clintonian hedging-- look at the situation with "Don't Ask-Don't Tell" (the repeal of which has far more popular support in the nation than the proposed mosque project).

This is an interesting issue to me because I don't have much of an answer to these questions. But I can't shake the feeling that the left is involved in a bit of a gamble here; the ethics of possibly hindering progress on the economy, the environment, and a host of other far more important (in the sense of the number of, and degree to which, people are affected) issues is certainly worth thinking about.