What do Newt Gingrich, Howard Dean, Sarah Palin, and Harry Reid all have in common? Did I hear, “They will all never be president?” Hopefully, but we were looking for, “They all oppose the mosque being built a few blocks from Ground Zero.” Newt is so opposed, he brought out this cute baby polar bear to bolster his position. Actually, that’s just the tenth result when you Google Image Search “newt gingrich mosque.”
What do Barack Obama, newly independent Florida Governor/Senate candidate Charlie Crist, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie all have in common? “Their names are overtly Christey?” Nope, but two out of three ain’t a bad guess. Actually, they’re all on the flip side of the mosque debate, favoring or acquiescing to its construction.
Then, there is a cohort of pols In the middle. Mitch McConnell proved to be uber-cautious with his “no comment” reply. Nancy Pelosi, for some reason, channeled Deep Throat on this issue and quixotically told the press to “Follow the money.” Recently yelling new husband Anthony Weiner (though luckily not at his wife but at bass ackwards Republicans who oppose a real 9/11 issue, the health of WTC responders) displayed a stance that is virtually indecipherable in its ambiguous language.
Often, when disparate groups arrive at the same stance, that consensus is considered a sign of the best alternative or option. This usually occurs when someone crosses party lines.
They say politics makes for strange bedfellows. If that’s the case, this issue makes for a strange orgy.
Can anyone recall an issue this controversial and divisive that had no semblance of splitting across party lines? Wedge issues aren’t supposed to work like this, dammit!
And, what is the common link on each side? Closeness to tragedy? Favoritism of the alternative minimum tax?
Actually, the only quasi-plausible commonality I can come up with is nearness to the site. But it’s disproportional: the closer your connections to NYC or Ground Zero, the more likely you are to be fine with the mosque’s construction, and the farther away you are the more vehemently you oppose it. This also overlaps with my theory that people who live in cities tend to be more tolerant, because we innately rub up against a wide cross-section of ethnicities, religions, and classes on a daily basis.
Think about it. Gingrich is from Georgia, Palin’s from another planet. Those two cats are about as un-New York as you can get. Dean’s from Vermont and Reid’s way out in Nevada. Boilerplate House Minority Leader John Boehner is from rural Ohio and is of course against it. (Gleeful sidenote: this escapade has also given us a new Bushism: refudiate, although it was uttered by Sarah Palin.)
On the flip side, Obama knows the city, went to college here. Christie is right across the river and passes through regularly. Mayor Bloomberg has expressed steadfast and tolerant support of the Islamic cultural center, despite the toll it’s cost him in favorability polls. This theory holds up alright, save Rudy Giuliani, who is of course against it because it somehow encroaches on his 9/11 glory… and let’s him recall his 9/11 glory.
The irony of this debate is viscous. First, the proposed site, 45-51 Park Place, is not on some coveted Monopoly block. As Jon Stewart has made sure to note with wondrous fanfair, it’s a now defunct Burlington Coat Factory. It’s literally next to this sleepy dive bar I used to throw a few back at, Dakota Roadhouse. It’s a quiet downtown street, where you wouldn’t otherwise know the mosque was there unless someone told you. Virtually no visitors to Ground Zero go near it… but now they will.
Further, it’s ridiculous to think of this debate when juxtaposed with the lack of attention or uproar over the daily Muslim praying at the Pentagon’s 9/11 crash site.
Finally, those against the mosque’s location trot out its insensitivity to 9/11 families, as with the stories in this video remembering the victims, which are sad and poignant, but the case they make does not move me in inch on the question of the mosque. Not even the 9/11 families are uniform on this issue. Colleen Kelly, whose brother Bill Kelly Jr. died in the attacks, is Catholic, lives in the Bronx, and is supportive. She said the mosque is, “in many ways… a fitting tribute,” and that, “This is the voice of Islam that I believe needs a wider audience. This is what moderate Islam is all about.”
Personally, as you might have gleaned from a few hints, I’m okay with it, and I walked next to the WTC site twice a day for years. I’m not saying I was thinking, “Y’know what someone should really do… build a mosque near Ground Zero!” but it’s not offensive to me and it’s a powerful example of religious freedom in action. Obama’s speech resonated that message starkly and upped the ante on the debate, before he bungled his principled stand with ill-put follow-up comments. (Political analysts like Mark Halperin think the president’s foray into this issue has worldwide and even re-electoral implications for him.)
So, who is more qualified to answer the question of this mosque? Is it the people who are too close to the issue or too far removed?