Only Nixon Could Go to China
How Obama can help ease "Islamophobia."
By JAMES TARANTO
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ONLINE
THE BEST OF THE WEB TODAY
September 13, 2010
"One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal-clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam," President Obama said in his Friday press conference. It doesn't speak well of Obama's leadership, or his manners, that one's first thought on hearing this is the old gag about the shortest book ever written. Step aside, "Dr. Kevorkian's Motivational Speeches," and make way for "The Things I Most Admire About George W. Bush" by Barack Obama.
It speaks still more poorly of Obama's leadership when even Obama's most devoted supporter, Barack Obama, implicitly acknowledges that Bush did a better job in this regard than Obama is doing. The excitable Peter Beinart exaggerates when he complains that under this president's leadership, America is "in the worst spasm of paranoia and bigotry since the Cold War." But there's no doubt that American mistrust of Muslims has been surfacing lately with some intensity, or that Obama has exacerbated matters by managing the situation insensitively.
The prevailing media narrative has it that America is suffering from an acute case of "Islamophobia," an irrational fear of Muslims. This seems to us quite wrong. American mistrust of Muslims is no more irrational than black mistrust of whites or Jewish mistrust of Germans. That is not to say that it is completely justifiable, only that it is completely understandable, for Americans have been, and continue to be, the targets of Islamic supremacist violence.
Because mistrust of Muslims is not completely justifiable, Obama and his backers in the media feel no obligation to understand it. "I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally and going through a tough time, then fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society," Obama said Friday, echoing Robert Reich's Marxism Lite analysis, which we noted last month.
This is a complete non sequitur. No one, not even the unhinged anti-Muslim types on the right, is blaming Muslims for America's current economic difficulties. American mistrust of Muslims is a reaction to Islamic supremacist terrorism, especially 9/11. That mistrust has surfaced recently because another group of Muslims is seeking to exploit that atrocity by building a fancy mosque adjacent to its site.
The reason President Bush did a better job at managing Americans' mistrust of Muslims is not, as Obama seems to suggest, that the Bush economy was so much better than the Obama one. It is, rather, that Americans, on this matter, trusted Bush. There's an old Vulcan proverb: Only Nixon could go to China. Bush commanded trust when he spoke up for peaceful Muslims, because Americans understood he was on our side against the terrorists.
Obama's antiterror policies have been largely continuous with Bush's, to the consternation of the anti-antiterror left and the great relief of the rest of us. But his rhetoric has often been ambiguous, as exemplified by this comment from his news conference:
Al Qaeda operatives still cite Guantanamo as a justification for attacks against the United States. Still to this day. And there's no reason for us to give them that kind of talking point when, in fact, we can use the various mechanisms of our justice system to prosecute these folks and to make sure that they never attack us again.
The president is siding against what are now his own administration's antiterror policies, and he bolsters his argument by citing what he calls al Qaeda "talking points." It's the sort of argument you expect to find in a column by Nicholas Kristof or some other mildly clever pundit who disdains America. Coming from the president of the United States, such mixed messages are confusing and dangerous.
At the Friday news conference, Obama was asked again about the Ground Zero mosque. "Now, I recognize the extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11," the president lip-serviced. But on the substance of the question he took refuge in bloodless legalisms: "If you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site."
Obama's election was supposed to be a corrective to Bush's bellicosity. In a sense, Bush played against type by exhorting Americans to rise above their suspicions of Muslims. But the Nixon-to-China principle goes both ways. As Bush the cowboy had moral authority with Americans,
Obama the conciliator has moral authority with Muslims.
So far, he hasn't done much but pander to them--most notably at last month's iftar dinner, where he endorsed the right to build the Ground Zero mosque--further alienating Americans.
What if he made it his mission to understand Americans' feelings on the matter and challenged Muslims to respect those feelings by building the mosque elsewhere? That would be an act of reconciliation worthy of George W. Bush at his most admirable.
They Explained Florida pastor Terry Jones's 15 minutes of fame are up, but not before he occasioned one of the weirdest moments in the history of cable news, captured for posterity by the good folks at NewsBusters.org. Jones was a guest Friday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Here's the full transcript of his appearance with co-hostess Mika Brzezinski, and Jon Meacham, recently deposed editor of Newsweek:
Brezezinski: We've really been debating whether or not to do this. Joe [Scarborough, the other co-host] says "no," he doesn't think it's a good idea at all. He might be right. The Florida pastor, threatening to burn copies of the Koran tomorrow, is now saying his plans are "on hold," after a local imam told him that the proposed New York Islamic center near Ground Zero would be moved. And joining us now from Gainesville, Florida, is pastor Terry Jones. And the reason we're doing this is my worry is that the pastor's going to have blood on his hands if he goes forward with this plan. So Jon Meacham just has a quick message for you, sir. Jon?
Meacham: Pastor, I just wanted to--this is Jon Meacham. I just wanted to suggest that Jesus said the night before he was handed over to suffering and death that he ordered his disciples to love one another as he had loved them. That was his central commandment, and as he died, he said that "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." The central message of the New Testament is forgiveness, and to put oneself in the place of another. And so I would simply appeal to you, as a fellow Christian, that the course you suggested is going to be incredibly dangerous, and would ask you to desist in the name of New Testament theology.
Brezezinski: All right, well said, Jon Meacham, and Pastor Terry Jones, we appeal to you to listen to that. And we don't really need to hear anything else, so thanks.
That's it! Jones appeared on screen but never got to say a word. The crazy pastor ended up looking more dignified than either than either the smarmy Meacham or the shrill Brzezinski. True, he didn't end up burning any Korans, but it's doubtful that Meacham's smug sermon was what persuaded him.
The whole bizarre exercise reminded us of the time when The New Republic, having published an excerpt of "The Bell Curve," devoted its entire next issue to a series of ritual denunciations of the book. Most of the contributions were repetitious and insubstantial, leading a reader to conclude that the purpose was not to further debate but to end the debate and atone for having participated in it in the first place.
It also calls to mind the late George Pearch, who under the stage name "Wally George" hosted a local 1980s TV show in Orange County, Calif., called "Hot Seat." As the Internet Movie Database describes the format, "George expounds on his extreme right-wing political views and insults guests and audience members who don't agree with him." As we remember it, Peach's would bring a guest on, let him start saying something, then denounce him as a "lunatic liberal" and have him escorted off by security.
At least Pearch's guests got to say something, and at least when they agreed to go on his show, they knew they were signing up to be abused. There's a word for supposedly serious journalists, like Mika Brzezinski and Jon Meacham, who act like Wally George: unprofessional.