Party Like It’s 2004

An analogy occurred to me today that I’m surprised took so long. I was reading the latest rantings about Park51, the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” when it struck me.

The Ground Zero Mosque is to 2010 what gay marriage was to 2004.

Allow me to elaborate.

During the Bush years, the Republicans decided to throw the gays under the bus of their political ambitions. They rallied behind things like the Defense of Marriage Amendment because their political strategists, e.g., Rove, told them it was the path to political victory.

At the time, I thought it was monumentally stupid. Apart from my own opinions on both gay marriage and bus-throwing-under, it was a bad long-term strategy. While polls showed that the majority of Americans (and massive numbers of conservatives) opposed gay marriage, the long term trend was in favor, especially among the youngest voters. For a temporary political gain, the Republicans sacrificed long-term strategy, turning off moderate Democrats, independents and young voters. Like so much under the Bush Administration, the future was sacrificed to the present.

Indeed, as the link above notes, many Republicans had misgivings among themselves at the time. And in recent years, they’ve been backing away from that position, supporting civil unions in increasing numbers. Hell, even Glenn Beck is not opposed to gay marriage any more.

I fear the GOP is about to run down an even more dangerous culture war dead end with this Cordoba House business. In the last week, the campaign has only intensified, especially now that Obama has voiced his support for religious freedom. Now the mosque opponents are accusing Obama of standing with the 9/11 hijackers, a statement that truly vile (especially in light of the President’s increasing efforts to destroy terrorists). This disgusting line is now showing up in the political ads of major Republican figures.

But the parallels to 2004 and gays are eerie:

1) Both involve stomping on a small minority.

2) Numerous moderate — or at least non-stupid — conservative are staying away. I’ve noticed a number of blogs and a handful of politicians being conspicuously silent on the issue (although unwilling to call the GOP out). They realize how dumb this but are unwilling to go against their own tribe.

3) In both cases, the root emotion may be understandable uneasiness with changes to our culture: increasing acceptance of gays in 2004 and increasing religious diversity in 2010.

4) In both cases, the Republicans were on the side of the opinion polls of the moment — majorities opposed gay marriage in 2004 and the majority oppose Cordoba now.

5) In both cases, the Republican position will only become less popular with time.

The latter, to me, is very obvious. The Ground Zero Mosque is a fabricated issue. Salon runs down how this controversy evolved. Objections were fairly muted until it came to the attention of anti-Islamic bigot Pamela Geller. Now the GOP is going full bore, riding the whirlwind. In time, however, passions will cool and people will wonder what the big deal was. And when that happens, the GOPs complicity in this will not go unnoticed.

(This is also why I disagree with the people praising Obama for his political courage in defending the mosque against popular opinion. We’ve seen time and again that Obama is smarter than the GOP. While they are focused on the tactics of the moment, he is focused on the long term political strategy. In time — I’m guessing by November 2012 — the mosque will be forgotten. But Obama’s stand with a religious minority will not be.)

But there’s more than just politics to this. I feel that, to gain a temporary political advantage, the Republicans are unnecessarily undermining the War on Terror. Mark Halperin:

Up until now, you have restricted yourself as much as possible to an economic message, eschewing social issues and foreign policy as you try to establish contrasts for the electorate between your brand and the Obama-Pelosi-Reid record. This is a smart, straightforward strategy, since worried voters chiefly are concerned about unemployment and the nation’s future financial prospects.

But please don’t [make an issue of the Mosque]. There are a handful of good reasons to oppose allowing the Islamic center to be built so close to Ground Zero, particularly the family opposition and the availability of other, less raw locations. But what is happening now ā€” the misinformation about the center and its supporters; the open declarations of war on Islam on talk radio, the Internet and other forums; the painful divisions propelled by all the overheated rhetoric ā€” is not worth whatever political gain your party might achieve.

It isn’t clear how the battle over the proposed center should or will end. But two things are profoundly clear: Republicans have a strong chance to win the midterm elections without picking a fight over President Obama’s measured words. And a national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner ā€” the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy.

The Republicans do not need this issue to win in November. And the people who will be most delighted by Bloquing the Mosque will be Osama bin Laden and other radical jihadists who will be able to claim that America is not what she claims to be; that Islam is oppressed in the West; that this is a religious conflict.

Look, I’m not a completely insensitive prick (just mostly). I understand why a mosque might bother some people. But we’re talking about a fundamental liberty at a moment when we are faced with an enemy who is desperate to turn their violent lunacy into a global religious conflict. We do not need this.

(And, yes, I am aware that Harry Reid has waffled on the mosque. All the more reason for that asshole to go down in flames, even if that means pig-headed Sharron Angle in he Senate for six years. But Obama is the de facto leader of the party. His support for the mosque is he party’s official position, just like Sarah Palin’s is the official position of the GOP until larger political figures say otherwise.)

Update: Unbelievable. The mosque opponents are now claiming victim status because they’re insulted by being portrayed as prejudiced. Welcome to the Modern GOP. If they can’t say or do whatever they like, they’re being oppressed.

Update: More evidence that this will be political poison for the GOP in the long term: while the majority of Americans opposed the mosque, the majority of Americans also believe the Muslims have a right to build it. In other words, they oppose it personally — but they don’t want the government to get involved. That’s certainly a more reasonable point of view.