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Monday, August 16, 2010

Do We Really Want the President to be Just Another Pundit?

Washington Post's Michael Gerson brings some sanity, perspective, and much needed reality to the Cordoba House debate and the president's statement on the subject. As pundits, bloggers, and political opportunists write column mile after column mile hammering Obama for standing with the Constitution, he reminds us that the president is actually The President, not some idiot talking head on cable news or a blogger with an ax to grind.

Oval Office[T]he view from the Oval Office differs from the view from a keyboard. A president does not merely have opinions; he has duties to the Constitution and to the citizens he serves -- including millions of Muslim citizens. His primary concern is not the sifting of sensitivities but the protection of the American people and the vindication of their rights.

By this standard, Obama had no choice but the general path he took. No president, of any party or ideology, could tell millions of Americans that their sacred building desecrates American holy ground. This would understandably be taken as a presidential assault on the deepest beliefs of his fellow citizens. It would be an unprecedented act of sectarianism, alienating an entire faith tradition from the American experiment. If a church or synagogue can be built on a commercial street in Lower Manhattan, declaring a mosque off-limits would officially equate Islam with violence and terrorism. No president would consider making such a statement. And those commentators who urge the president to do so fundamentally misunderstand the presidency itself.

In short, the people expecting Obama to come out swinging against Cordoba House think of him as just another political blowhard, no more important to the country than Rush Limbaugh. They have a deep, deep misunderstanding of what America actually is -- not just of what the Constitution says.

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