The Obama Watch

Our Lecturer in Chief

The president, the mosque, and the people.

By 8.20.10

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President Obama just can't help himself. It's impulse. Every time he sees the American people, in their infinite and confounding ignorance, pursuing a course they shouldn't, he intervenes to correct them. Such is the view from the clouds on which he placidly floats above us all.

Most politicians speak of the wisdom of the American people. Some even believe it. But not Obama. Time and time again, he takes to the lectern to scold or educate us.

Last Friday, he needlessly jumped into a percolating political controversy -- again -- to enlighten the uneducated masses. This time the subject was the Islamic cultural center proposed to be built two blocks from Ground Zero, where Islamist terrorists murdered more than 2,700 Americans.

"The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country," he said, beginning what was to be yet another lecture on what he sees as our failure as a people to live up to our values. "And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable. So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders. And ground zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

"But let me be clear. 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. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

No one can pack more conceit, more condescension, into two little paragraphs than Barack Obama can. In the first paragraph, he establishes that opponents of the Islamic center are reacting purely emotionally. "I understand the emotions that this issue engenders." In the second, he informs us that, as an enlightened being, he sees this issue properly -- it's about freedom of religion. Appealing to our reverence for the Constitution, he states that "our commitment" (all Americans are bound by creed to agree on this) "must be unshakable."

These are not the words of a president attempting to lead and unite a nation. They are the words of an academic attempting to instruct a class that he considers particularly thick-headed. And they came unprompted. He didn't have to address the issue at all. He wanted to. He needed to. His conscience compelled him to.

This is how President Obama so often gets himself into trouble. He didn't have to weigh in on the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest. But he couldn't help himself. He had to use it as a "teachable moment" on race relations.

He didn't have to explain to Joe the Plumber that he intended to "spread the wealth around." He didn't have to tell Democratic donors in San Francisco that rural Pennsylvanians salve their bitterness by clinging to guns and religion. But he just couldn't help himself.

Last year, in his third press conference as president, he couldn't resist telling Americans to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough.

Obama has never transitioned from his former job as a college lecturer. The reason is that he really doesn't see his new job as that different. It just has more perks, such as the ability to use force when persuasion fails. And the ability to have paid staffers step forward to clarify one's ill-considered remarks.

The day after asserting that no American should object to an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero -- "in lower Manhattan," as he put it -- he contradicted himself, saying, "I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That's what our country is about."

If he wasn't giving his approval of a mosque near Ground Zero, then why did he specifically define the location ("lower Manhattan") where he said we must all be unshakably committed to the right of Muslims to build a mosque?

When the press found his clarification not all that clarifying, the president's staff rephrased it. White House Spokesman Bill Burton said on Saturday, "What he said last night, and reaffirmed today, is that if a church, a synagogue or a Hindu temple can be built on a site, you simply cannot deny that right to those who want to build a mosque."

That's a better way to put it. But it still fails to clarify. Here is why. The question never was one of religious freedom -- because the use of government force is not at issue. The question is whether the backers of this Islamic center should build it two blocks from Ground Zero, not whether government should stop them.

In his haste to teach us all a lesson, Obama misread the issue. This is nothing new. As is his habit, he was so eager to talk that he never listened to the conversation into which he injected himself. As with his instant analysis of the Gates affair, he hastily leapt in with a pre-set conclusion. In both instances his conclusion was the same -- I must speak out to show the majority how it is being intolerant of the minority.

Here is a president who presumes that most Americans are intolerant, uneducated simpletons who need to be taught constitutional basics by their president. And in his mind, they have exactly the right president for the job.

Is it any wonder that the more he talks, the lower his poll numbers dip?

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.