Ben Smith wonders whether President Obama will see what a "teachable moment" the controversy over the Islamic center near Ground Zero is and weigh in with a characteristically sensitive and insightful speech or something. "He can understand the pain and anger of both sides, offer something that sounds like a synthesis but winds up roughly where Mike Bloomberg stands." Yeah, that'd be nice. But the thing about teachable moments is that people need to be willing to learn. This episode has reminded us (not that we needed a reminder) that Americans' commitment to American values is, on the whole, pretty thin. Generally speaking, lots and lots of us (including those who proclaim their patriotism most loudly) tend to support things like freedom of speech or freedom of religion only so long as the speech or religion in question is one they otherwise feel warmly toward.
But there is one example in recent history of conservative Americans bravely standing up for the constitutional rights of people who might have ties to terrorism. Not long ago some Democrats suggested that people on the FBI's terrorist watch list shouldn't be able to buy guns. Republicans, with the firm support of the National Rifle Association, fought back. Lindsay Graham, who is currently crusading to repeal the 14th Amendment, said of the proposal to deny guns to potential terrorists, "I think you're going too far here."
So if you're getting depressed about the state of support for freedom of religion, you can at least rest easy that suspected terrorists can still buy assault rifles.
-- Paul Waldman