Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The President Walks Back On The First Amendment.

You knew it couldn’t last. Barack Obama’s stirring defense of the Cordoba House was going to be abandoned at the first instance of political blow-back. The gory details from Swamplands at Time Magazine’s Internet presence :

The president, on a quick vacation/oil spill solidarity tour in the Gulf, tempered his defense of the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan:

My intention was to simply let people know what I thought, which was that in this country we treat everybody equally in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion. I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a 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 and I think it's very important, as difficult as some of these issues are, that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.

Read more: http://goo.gl/eDam

Almost two years into his Presidency and Barack Hussein Obama still acts like the part-time College Law Professor he used to be in Chicago. Almost four years into the maelstrom that is the DC politics, and he still treats issues like the Cordoba House like an intellectual exercise. Sweet Baby Jesus on a Pogo Stick, when will this man stop acting like Tevye the Milkman in Fiddler on the Roof?! “On one hand, but on the other.” does not cut it in the shark infested waters of the DC beltway.

Time, being a media outlet that is the sin qua non of Corporate Media, and the common wisdom, jumps off the President’s musings to do a bit of naval gazing. The Corporate major media, the so-called Mainstream Media, never misses an opportunity to indulge its inner Narcissus. It is, after all, all about them.

Thus in yet another example of this excessive self regard, Time rounds up the usual suspects memes here : http://goo.gl/FlDo. It is all depressingly familiar. It is why so many people ignore the musings of what Sara Palin calls “The Lamestream Media.” In this article, Ms. Palin has a point. In four, hackneyed, foolish, paragraphs Time misses the point, not by a mile, but by several Light-years.

Guys, and Gals, it’s not about you, honestly, no kidding. Please, for god’s sake, put away the mirror and stop basking in your own reflection for at least a few minutes. The real story here is how the President reduced one of our most cherished notions; the freedom of conscious, to a just a theory.

Time did manage to point out how several sections of the public are now boiling mad. Some of us, your faithful correspondent among them, are vibrating between the poles of outrage and cynical resignation.

The resignation comes from observing Barak Obama, and from reading his Magnum Opuses, Dreams of My Father, and The Audacity of Hope. If you are looking for a fierce defender of the Constitution, or let’s be blunt anything else, you will be sadly disabused of the notion that Obama is such a person. This is man of the mushy middle. It is, as pointed out by Taylor Marsh, his brand. His brand is that of the post-partisan, post-racial, independent, “moderate.” To achieve the brand Obama spends most of his time bashing his Progressive base. Read his books, he spends much more time slicing and dicing the left wing of U.S. politics than the right. It is no accident that all the gaffs coming out of the White House have been incidents of Liberal bashing. It is no accident that every back-track and or “clarification” has been a drift to the right of the political spectrum. The default is kick down the left and kiss up the right. Such is the concept of “moderation” and “post-partisanship” as actually enacted by the administration of Barak Obama.

It is with this history in mind that some of us have concluded that the Obama default is the constant and reflexive attitude of compromise for the sake of compromise. It is Obama being Obama. The President is not badly advised, he is not being lead astray by the machinations of Rham. Results matter, and the results of the President’s actions show a man who is willing to compromise anything and everything for a “win” on some policy point. This is the ultimate insider attitude, this the pettifoggery of an apparatchik, this a technocrat’s technocrat.

It is hard to say what history will make of the Presidency of Barak Obama, history takes time. Still, even with the events unfolding before our eyes, it would not be surprising to see Obama’s legacy being one of missed opportunities. It may be a legacy of falling far short of his promise. That a man who is a Harvard Law graduate, and a former teacher of Constitutional law in Chicago, could not clearly express one of the very core principles of the founding document, the right of conscience, is just wrong. Obama had the megaphone of the Presidency, what Theodore Roosevelt called the “Bully Pulpit,” and he bungled the message. He had a golden opportunity to remind people of one of our founding ideas. He was gifted with a chance to strike a blow for reason, acceptance and inclusion, to push back on blatant bigotry, and he whiffed. He allowed the continuation of a debate that should have never started in the first place.

It was a dismal performance. Obama violated his oath, he failed to “to the best of” [his] “ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” His defense of the First Amendment was inept. It was confused. It was incompetently performed. And because he failed to live up to his oath, our sisters and brothers of the Islamic faith were left out in the lurch. They were deserted, abandoned to the attacks of vicious haters and demagogues. They were allowed to be the target of fear mongers and bigots. They were left out in the cold, to defend as best they could, the faith they held dear. They deserved better.

What they deserved, what the Constitution requires, was a fierce defense of their Abrahamic faith, not despite there small numbers in the U.S., but precisely because of their small numbers in the U.S. What they deserved, was the President in full berserker rage, swinging a rhetorical ax against the Islamophobes. What they deserved, was the President’s first comment, not the off-the-cuff musings of Saturday. There can be absolutely no quarter when the inalienable rights of the minority are under attack. There can be no philosophical musings, or sail-trimming, when you are the head of the Executive branch and the subject of civil rights is broached. Our Muslim brothers and sisters get to build their mosques any time they please as long as they follow local zoning laws and building codes: full stop. Anyone who has a problem with that can go blow bubbles in the bathtub.

This is not a question of left versus right, or Islam versus Christianity, it is a question of right versus wrong. It is a question of fear versus courage. It is a question of standing up to a bunch of vicious bullies trying to crush the rights of an unpopular minority. Mr. President my mother taught me to stand up to bullies, what did your mother teach you?

Addendum: 18 August 2010. Some defenders of Obama has noted that the President's comments on Friday were taken out of context. The argument goes thusly: Obama was always and only commenting on the First Amendment rights of the Muslims in NYC to build the site, not on the actual "wisdom" of the actual building.

Even if true then he muddled and muddied his message. More to the point, it was bad message. The right of free speech and of religion are not up to a vote by the unwashed masses. There is no need to discuss the "wisdom" of this building. There is an absolute right to build the Community Center. There is a real public benefit.

The only reason people argue about the "wisdom" of this building is because of an irrational fear of Islam. That fear is stoked by demagogues who  wrongly conflate the actions of a handful of jihadi nihilists with the faith of over a billion people, Islam.

The President should not only defend the right of the Park 51 group to build its community center, but the very idea behind that center. It is a Public space that directly contributes to the commons and indirectly contributes to inter-faith understanding. If that is not wise, then please explane the definition of wisdom.
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