"Ike’s not a Communist, he’s a golfer." That was Russell Kirk’s succinct response to the claim by John Birchers in the 1950s that President Eisenhower was a Communist.
In that spirit, and speaking, we think, for the vast majority of those opposed to the Ground Zero mosque, and in response to many inquiries as to where we stand on this pressing issue, The Weekly Standard would like to say, formally and emphatically, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion: President Obama is not a Muslim. (And, it turns out, he too is a golfer.)
Not that—we hasten to add, looking over our shoulder at Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s investigators approaching our office—there would be anything wrong with his being a Muslim. And we also hasten to add that we’ve just realized, with a gasp of embarrassment verging on horror, that in the preceding paragraph we used the term Ground Zero mosque. The Associated Press has officially expressed its disapproval of that appellation. After all, the AP has explained, the planned mosque is not right smack-dab at the epicenter of Ground Zero.
Still, with all this confusion abounding, we do wonder if it isn’t a bit judgmental of the mainstream media to condemn the 18 percent of Americans who say they think Barack Obama is a Muslim. For one thing, this is fewer than the number of Americans who say that intelligent beings from other planets have made contact with humans on Earth. And it has gotten hard even for people of good will to keep things straight.
For example, mosque defender Jeffrey Goldberg has made much of remarks by Faisal Abdul Rauf, the organizer of the Community Center Formerly Known as the Ground Zero Mosque, at a 2003 memorial service for Daniel Pearl. As evidence that Rauf is “a moderate, forward-leaning Muslim,” Goldberg quotes Rauf as saying:
We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind and soul “Shma`Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ahad; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one. . . . If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one. . . . And I am here to inform you, with the full authority of the Quranic texts and the practice of the Prophet Muhammad, that to say “La ilaha illallah Muhammadun rasulullah” is no different.
So Rauf is a Muslim, but he’s also a Jew, and a Christian, and he’s always been all of them. It’s amazing that only 18 percent of Americans are all mixed up about President Obama’s religion.
But Americans aren’t all mixed up in their judgment of President Obama’s policies. Obama said last week, at a Hollywood fundraiser, that he and congressional Democrats “have been able to deliver the most progressive legislative agenda—one that helps working families—not just in one generation, maybe two, maybe three.”
Obama made this claim about the magnitude of his progressive agenda Monday night. By Thursday, his allies, looking at public opinion polls showing amazingly wide and deep hostility to his signature health care legislation, were on a conference call advising Democrats to minimize the scope of the health care bill.
As Ben Smith reported in Politico, under the headline “Dems retreat on health care cost pitch,”
Key White House allies are dramatically shifting their attempts to defend health care legislation, abandoning claims that it will reduce costs and the deficit, and instead stressing a promise to “improve it” The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call. . . . It was based on polling from three top Democratic pollsters, John Anzalone, Celinda Lake, and Stan Greenberg. The confidential presentation . . . suggests that Democrats are acknowledging the failure of their predictions that the health care legislation would grow more popular after its passage, as its benefits became clear and rhetoric cooled. . . . “Straightforward ‘policy’ defenses fail to [move] voters’ opinions about the law,” says one slide. . . . The presentation also concedes that the fiscal and economic arguments that were the White House’s first and most aggressive sales pitch have essentially failed. “Many don’t believe health care reform will help the economy,” says one slide. The presentation’s final page of “Don’ts” counsels against claiming “the law will reduce costs and [the] deficit.”
And the kicker:
The presentation also counsels against the kind of grand claims of change that accompanied the legislation’s passage. “Keep claims small and credible; don’t overpromise or ‘spin’ what the law delivers,” it says, suggesting supporters say, “The law is not perfect, but it does good things and helps many people. Now we’ll work to improve it.”
So progressivism seeks to bring big changes to our backward country. Progressives like to dream about passing “the most progressive legislative agenda . . . not just in one generation, maybe two, maybe three.” But when progressivism has to give up its grand transformational claims, then we’re back in the world of reality and results, of the practical consequences of policy choices. A political debate over consequences rather than intentions, and over the real world rather than an imagined one, is one that is, as it has been for a long time, good for conservatives and bad for progressives.
It’s similar with the Community Center Formerly Known as the Ground Zero Mosque. Today’s progressives are multiculturalists. They’re inclined to make grand claims about the positive merits of a multicultural, non-judgmental mosaic replacing our old, uniculturalist melting-pot view of America. But when political realities force them to retreat, as Obama has done in the mosque controversy, from a proud multiculturalism to a narrow defense of the right to the free exercise of religion and the right to build on private property, they’re in trouble. The free exercise of religion and respect for private property are not a promising agenda for progressives.
Progressivism is in retreat. Obama’s problem isn’t that people falsely think he’s a Muslim. It’s that the public is correctly concluding he’s a garden-variety multiculturalist progressive. So November’s election won’t just be a repudiation of one non-Muslim president. It will be a repudiation of a multiculturalist progressive worldview—and of the bitter elites who cling desperately to that worldview and are consumed by antipathy to most Americans, who don’t.