Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Still Not Convinced on "Ground Zero Mosque"

Jonathan Chait says that the Park 51 imbroglio matters (in part) because it "has become a proxy fight on this question among Republicans" leading into the presidential nomination contest.  That's plausible -- seemingly inconsequential things can in fact be quite important if they sort out intraparty struggles.  But as Greg Sargent points out, this isn't really much of a fight:
The project is opposed by many of the leading GOP officials in Congress, from John Boehner to Eric Cantor to Mitch McConnell. What's more, the battle over the Islamic center has actually become a litmus test for the 2012 GOP hopefuls, with Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty all trying to out-demagogue each other on the issue.

Meanwhile, on the other side, the Republicans who have stepped forward to support the project are largely former Bush officials who are no longer in positions of power or aren't running for office anytime soon. In other words, the Cheney-ite line has become the required position of thise with actual influence within the GOP -- or those who are currently in the process of seeking it.
I think that's right, and therefore while it may be true that this could have been an occasion for a GOP fight, in fact it's just a (further) ratification of something that had already happened.  Moreover, I tend to agree with Nick Beaudrot that Bush-era religious pluralism is somewhat overstated.

As far as Chait's other point -- that this fracas is "a marker about the place of Muslims in American society" -- well, it may be a better-than-usual opportunity to judge just how much bigotry there may be, and how openly it gets expressed, but that doesn't mean that anything is changing as a result of this latest flap. 

I do think that his point about internal GOP differences is perfectly plausible, but I just don't see it actually happening.


  1. For what it's worth, Ron Paul, Chris Christie, and Michael Bloomberg have all come out swinging in support of Park51. Was a time when Michael Bloomberg was talked about as a possible major player in moderate conservatism, Chris Christie is widely seen as one of the party's major rising stars, and Paul does wield a queer amount of influence among a certain set (a significant strain of the grassroots Tea Party crowds). How influential these people are precisely is certainly open to debate---and certainly nowhere near as much as the opponents of the mosque---but I don't think it's fair to say that the position is unanimous in Republican circles. There are prominent dissenters.

  2. I think it's safe to say that, at the very least, Ron Paul and Michael Bloomberg are not anywhere near the GOP mainstream.

  3. What do you think of the argument that this fracas, by validating such anti-Muslim behavior across the Union, will make assimilation less appealing to Muslims in the long run, increasing the potential for radicalization?

  4. Julian,

    I think bigotry against Muslims isn't new, and has been pretty much present in its current form at least since the Iran hostage crisis, and probably since the 1973 oil embargo or the massacre at the Olympics in 1972. So whatever effect that has on assimilation is, at least in my opinion, not going to be changed much by this specific incident. There's also, FWIW, Douthat's argument that bigotry causes assimilation, although I don't buy that.

  5. Bigotry against Muslims may be nothing new, but its mainstreaming is pretty unprecedented. Not only have virtually all establishment Republicans fallen in line, but so have Democrats from Harry Reid to Howard Dean, as well as previously respected organizations like the ADL, and even the liberal president of the United States lacks the nerve to speak against it.

  6. Is it unprecedented? I don't really know, but I doubt it. I suspect that if you looked around in 1979 you would find plenty of statements from pols that were pretty bad. And there's plenty of pro-torture rhetoric over the last decade that basically said A-rab = Muslim = terrorist. Most of it, like most of the current anti-Park 51 stuff, is couched in superficially non-bigoted rhetoric...I just don't think there's a huge difference now vs. 2004.

  7. The importance of this episode is not that it is so different from 2004 (although there are some important differences, mainly that the Republicans, freed from any need to govern, can give full reign to their baser instincts), but in the cumulative effect of the repeated outbursts of bigotry on the Republican side. By sustained repetition, the Republicans have managed to get across the message that if you aren't old, white and straight, you don't belong in the party. It's going to limit their gains this year, prevent them from defeating Obama in 2012, and make them a permanent minority party in danger of collapse by 2020.

  8. I'd like a little more specifics. Can you name an earlier bout of anti-Islamic rhetoric adopted so fully by leading Republican and Democratic pols?

  9. Can you name any comments from 2004 that (a) declared that Muslims were not entitled to freedom of religion or (b) condemned Islam in blanket terms, and (c) was not condemned across the political spectrum? While such sentiment has always existed, it seems like only since around 2006 has it become acceptable in portions of the public sphere.

    I mean, there would be a huge difference between random nutters claiming that all black people are genetically stupid (an argument that's still going strong), and prominent figures from our country's two main parties endorsing that position (which has basically been taboo for decades).


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