Welcome to the Terrordome

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Sometimes, it’s a little hard to like Majority Leader Harry Reid. Okay, not sometimes: Often. Sure, once in a while he’ll accomplish the historic passage of a Republican health care bill, but, generally, he’s blasé at best and offensively useless at worst. Or maybe just offensive.

Offensive it is, again. Yesterday, in addressing the recent (cynical) outrage over the planning of an Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site, his spokesman, Jim Manley said, “The First Amendment protects freedom of religion. Senator Reid respects that, but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else.”

Built somewhere else, you say? Well, I’ll counter with this. No Mormon tabernacles should be built in or near Washington County, Utah. Washington County, see, was the site of the Mountain Meadows massacre, where Mormons, with help from American Indians, slaughtered betwee 120-140 men and women of the Fancher-Baker Party who were traveling from Arkansas to California.

The date of the massacre was September 11, 1857.

Before Americans hated Muslims, they hated Mormons, and before Mormons, they hated Catholics. Hell, even way before that, Presbyterians hated Anglicans, and Anglicans hated the Puritans. We have a long tradition of hating people of different faiths—and, being Mormon, Harry Reid should damned well know that.

Harry Reid had an opportunity and squandered the hell out of it. Rep. Keith Ellison, on the other hand, shows that Democrats could have seized this to show at least an iota of leadership (heretofore unknown to congressional Democrats):

“The truth is that we’re a party of principle. We believe in the idea of religious liberty.”

In 1773, a Baptist minister Isaac Backus wrote: “When church and state are separate, the effects are happy, and they do not at all interfere with each other: but where they have been confounded together, no tongue nor pen can fully describe the mischiefs that have ensued.”

Thomas Jefferson may be out of vogue in Texas educational circles, but in the  pantheon of the Founding Fathers, he cannot be ignored. And, he did famously write:

“Where the Preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word ‘Jesus Christ,’ so that it should read ‘a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.’ The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.”

Way back in 2008, Colin Powell had quite a response when asked about then-Senator Barack Obama possibly being secretly a Muslim: “Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.” That should have had the same stab-in-the-gut effect as your dad saying “I’m not mad, son, I’m disappointed.” But, for many—those without shame—it didn’t have any effect at all.

In the same way, folks screaming about the “GROUND ZERO OMG TERRORISM MOSQUE OMG 9/11 MOSLEMS,” need to step back and realize how un-American—how shameful—it is to tell people of any faith that they are banned from practicing wherever they want. That it’s their faith that drove planes into American buildings—good, Christian buildings.

How the fuck dare you.

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New York Times Columnist Line of the Day

If you’re one of the four-or-so frequent readers of this here blog, chances are you also occasionally check out the New York Times op-ed page. You may even know the names: Thomas “Friedman Ain’t Free” Friedman, Gail “The Colander” Collins, Nicholas “The Dark Crystal” Kristof, &c. Well, I’ve decided to devote a daily feature to these folks, by daily pointing out one line that is either awesome, funny, insightful, intelligent, ridiculous, or utterly divorced from reality. I hope you enjoy.

Today’s is from Tawmy “Friedman’s Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose” Friedman, who, in his column “Obama and the Oil Spill,” writes:

No, the gulf oil spill is not Obama’s Katrina. It’s his 9/11 — and it is disappointing to see him making the same mistake George W. Bush made with his 9/11.

Okay, first of all: At what point did one of the nation’s most terrible tragedies become the symbol of opportunity? As in, the only lesson of that day was how Bush squandered some kind of opportunity to turn the country around, to make some positive of it. And, that any time something happens that gives a politician an opportunity to lead on some issue, it’s “their 9/11.”

I’m sorry, but that’s outrageous. The commandment might read “Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain,” but perhaps the same should apply to gigantic historical events that have only tenuous comparisons to current ones. Don’t call Bush/Obama “Hitler,” and don’t call an oil spill “Obama’s 9/11.”

Sure, Friedman’s right on many accounts in this column: we should be looking at energy alternatives, we should be investing in new technologies, and the president should be leading the way. But doesn’t taking advantage of this catastrophe to do so seem a little…opportunistic?

The truth of the matter as well is that what Friedman wants the president to do is also pretty unrealistic. Congress has no appetite for controversy on energy right now, because, yes, they did just pass a health care bill that puts their seats in jeopardy, and will be soon passing financial reform and taking up immigration. Sometimes, knowing your limits is the hallmark of good leadership, and the president does seem comfortable limiting his reaction to castigating the ones responsible and seeking new regulations on oil companies.

Regardless, Friedman overstates this moment. It’s not September 11, 2001 all over again. It’s not a moment that requires big, existential thoughts and drastic, inspiring action. It’s March 24, 1989. What’s needed is tactical and realistic thought and deliberate, surgical action.