As about a million people, not all of them conservatives, noted on Twitter during this morning’s presser, he was more animated when lecturing Americans about what is and isn’t proper for them to think than he was discussing the “JV team” that terrorized Paris on Friday. BuzzFeed EIC Ben Smith put it this way:
Obama at his most impassioned when he's talking about American identity, rather than crises abroad/terrorism.
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) November 16, 2015
That’s a delicate way of saying that Obama palpably much prefers his informal role as moral authority to his actual job. He’ll make a fine successor to Carter as an ex-president with a horrible legacy of governance who re-creates himself in retirement as some sort of transnational “elder” dispensing progressive moral wisdom as needed. Lots of speeches, lots of admiration from fans, no meaningful duties to carry out: It’s the role he was born to play. In the meantime, he’ll spend part of the next 15 months butting heads with Republican governors on this issue:
Several state governors announced on Monday that they will not accept Syrian refugees following the attacks in Paris, citing concerns for security.
The governors of Mississippi, Louisiana, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Texas, and Arkansas announced measures on Monday to stop or oppose Syrian refugees from resettling in their states. Alabama and Michigan made similar announcements on Sunday…
Refugees are extensively vetted — the process takes on average 18 to 24 months — but senior U.S. officials have said they are concerned there is a lack of on-the-ground intelligence in Syria that could be useful in the screening process.
Terrorist infiltration via the refugee process is a real concern, as Parisians know only too well, but it’s not the main concern. Here’s the main concern, via a poll taken by Pew in 2013. Note that these graphs specifically track opinion among Muslims who think shari’a should be the law of the land, not all Muslims, but you’re still talking about outright majorities or substantial minorities of the total population in many cases. (For instance, per Pew, 91 percent of Iraqis claimed at the time that shari’a should be the law.)
No numbers there for Syria but you can guess what they might look like given what they do look like for other Middle Eastern and north African countries. Outside of conservative outlets, though, the only place in American media where you’re apt to hear the frightening illiberalism of Islamic cultures being debated openly is Bill Maher’s show on HBO. Post-Cairo, Obama will dance around the topic at times, inserting rhetoric in his public comments about Muslim communities needing to do more to address the “root causes” of radicalization or whatever, but typically what he means by that is creating more economic opportunity. (For a man of the left, all “primitive” cultural practices are a reaction to economic frustration.) It’s unthinkable that he would note the numbers posted above and declare, entirely correctly, that those values are pretty farking un-American themselves and that maybe it’s not so crazy to worry about those values being imported in an age when some on the left treat the right’s demands for assimilation as cultural imperialism. That’s the worst part of this lecture from Obama — not the condescension, which we’re all used to by now, but his indignation about an illiberal reaction to a far more menacing illiberalism abroad. Want Americans to feel indifferent between Christian and Muslim refugees? Then get cracking on getting those death-penalty-for-apostasy numbers down.
If you want to know why Trump has lasted this long, watch this guy wag his finger and tell people who just watched homegrown jihadis in France gun people down for the second time this year that they’re being un-American for worrying about what’s driving that. And then go read this short piece from Sunday’s NYT about a Belgian minister admitting that the government doesn’t have control of Molenbeek, a neighborhood in Brussels linked to several terror plots over the last few years. Americans look at Paris and realize it could (and eventually will) happen here. Why couldn’t Molenbeek happen too?