An Obama-esque statement, not only in terms of his stance on the mosque (like O, he’s voting present) but in the way he’s trying to position himself above the fray of normal party politics. That’s actually a big part of his brand: We think of him as a conservative rock star thanks to his crusade against spending but Christie tends to present himself as a pragmatist who’s just doing what needs to be done to restore fiscal sanity to New Jersey. He’s the adult in the room, in other words, making hard choices to solve serious problems while lesser pols jerk around and have food fights. That’s what he’s going for here, I think. Politico’s rough transcript:
“Given my last position, that I was the first U.S attorney post 9/11 in New Jersey. I understand acutely the pain and sorrow and upset of the family members who lost loved ones that day. At the hands of radical Muslim extremist. And their sensitivities and concerns have to be taken into account. Just because it’s nearly nine years later, those sensitivities cannot and should not be ignored. On the other hand, we cannot paint all of Islam with that brush…We have to bring people together. And what offends me the most about all this, is that it’s being used as a political football by both parties. And what disturbs me about the president remarks is that he is now using it as a political football as well. I think the president of the United State should rise above that. And should not be using this as a political football, and I don’t believe that it would be responsible of me to get involved and comment on this any further because it just put me in the same political arena as all of them.
“My principles on this are two-fold. One, that we have to acknowledge, respect and give some measure of deference to the feelings of the family members who lost there loved ones there that day. But it would be wrong to so overreact to that, that we paint Islam with a brush of radical Muslim extremists that just want to kill Americans because we are Americans. But beyond that…I am not going to get into it, because I would be guilty of candidly what I think some Republicans are guilty of, and the president is now the president is guilty of, of playing politics with this issue, and I simply am not going to do it.”
Asked if he’d call upon both parties to stop, he said, “Well, that again will be playing politics with the issue. I said what I feel about it, and I don’t believe it is up to me to pontificate on other people about what they should do. I just observe what I observe. And I don’t believe that this issue should be a political football. I just don’t. And I think that both sides of this issue now are using this as a political football. And I don’t think it brings people together in America, I think it just further drives people apart, and creates divisions, and I think that’s bad for our country. And all people in our country suffer when those kind of things happen.”
So (1) let’s respect public sensitivities about Ground Zero and (2) let’s respect the distinction between Muslims and radical Muslims and (3) let’s not divide people. What that means in terms of resolving this dispute, I have no idea. But I do agree with him that big-name pols weighing in on this does more harm than good. Even if they’re doing it for sincere reasons rather than for cynical political advantage, there’s no way to avoid the perception that they’re doing it for cynical political advantage, which adds a whole new dimension of clamminess to the discussion. It reminds me of Beltway honchos trying to coopt the tea-party label: Grassroots types on both sides are capable of hashing this out without establishment interference. What does Newt Gingrich add to the debate by railing against the mosque in one breath and chatting with reporters about whether he’ll run for president in another?