How badly did Barack Obama fumble the mosque controversy last weekend? No fewer than three media columnists now want Obama rescued by George W. Bush. Byron York reports on the desperate pleas:
“It’s time for W. to weigh in,” writes the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. Bush, Dowd explains, understands that “you can’t have an effective war against the terrorists if it is a war on Islam.” Dowd finds it “odd” that Obama seems less sure on that matter. But to set things back on the right course, she says, “W. needs to get his bullhorn back out” — a reference to Bush’s famous “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” speech at Ground Zero on September 14, 2001.
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson is also looking for an assist from Bush. “I…would love to hear from former President Bush on this issue,” Robinson wrote Tuesday in a Post chat session. “He held Ramadan iftar dinners in the White House as part of a much broader effort to show that our fight against the al-Qaeda murderers who attacked us on 9/11 was not a crusade against Islam. He was absolutely right on this point, and it would be helpful to hear his views.”
And Peter Beinart, a former editor of the New Republic, is also feeling some nostalgia for the former president. “Words I never thought I’d write: I pine for George W. Bush,” Beinart wrote Tuesday in The Daily Beast. “Whatever his flaws, the man respected religion, all religion.” Beinart longs for the days when Bush “used to say that the ‘war on terror’ was a struggle on behalf of Muslims, decent folks who wanted nothing more than to live free like you and me…”
For the moment, with Obama failing to live up to expectations, Bush-bashing is over.
That, of course, is one of the delicious ironies of this situation. Obama has done nothing but attack and demonize Bush for the last nineteen months, mainly to distract attention from Obama’s own failures on the economy. In fact, while Dowd et al demand a response from Bush, Obama is busy on the campaign trail (an activity that Obama chided the GOP for doing while Obama attended big fundraisers) attempting to continue blaming Bush for the economic slide Obama promised to prevent with his massive spending.
It’s not the only irony, though. If Bush was inclined to comment on the situation, he may very well echo Obama, or at least talk about the compatibility of liberty and moderate Islam. After all, the entire exercise in Iraq was and is predicated on the notion that Islam and democracy are not incompatible, a point that some enraged by the Ground Zero mosque seem to have forgotten. A democratic, stable Iraq would serve to light a beacon towards an Islamic Enlightenment, the neocon theory instructs, that would pressure the theocracies and kleptocracies in the region to modernize and liberalize (in the classic sense of the word). If a mosque in New York City is incompatible with freedom, as a small subset of those opposed to the GZM claim, then the entire exercise in Iraq makes no sense at all.
That’s not to say that the large majority of the opposition to the GZM is about a mosque, any mosque, rather than location; clearly, most of the opposition recognizes that government has no right to block construction of a house of worship only on the basis of the religion involved. But Bush would be smart enough to stay out of the location argument and to be careful not to leave an impression that he was endorsing a mosque in the debris field of 9/11, too — which is where Obama went wrong this weekend.
The final irony is that this White House is at least somewhat responsible for not getting Bush to comment. Obama’s political arm went hard after Dick Cheney when the former VP publicly criticized Obama’s foreign policy and national security decisions. If Obama’s allies turn their puffy eyes towards W for a rescue, they have no one to blame but the White House when he fails to ride to their defense.
Update: I left an important clause out of the penultimate paragraph, which is that government can’t block construction of a house of worship only on the basis of the religion involved. I’ve added it, but wanted to note the update.