As I (and plenty of other people) have said a million times, conservatives who fancy themselves tough-talkin' terror fighters do a great deal of service to al-Qaeda when they do things like oppose an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan. They validate all the arguments al-Qaeda makes, particularly the one that says that America is engaged in a clash of civilizations with Islam, and that Americans think all Muslims are their enemies. Whether out of stupidity or cynicism, people like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich who are leading this charge are telling Muslims all over the world that Osama bin Laden is right about America.
Yesterday, Kevin Drum was making this point, and said, "For once, I really do miss George Bush. The damage he did to the American cause in the Muslim world is incalculable, but at least he never countenanced this kind of lunatic bigotry." Matt Yglesias responded, "George W Bush isn’t dead. He's alive and well. If he wanted to stand alongside Mayor Bloomberg and do a press conference, I'm sure people would pay attention."
We shouldn't expect that, because Bush is, as Matt says, "observing a kind of ex-presidential courtesy and staying out of things," which isn't a bad tradition to uphold. But this is probably the fourth or fifth time in the last couple of months that the current crop of Republican leaders has made me say the same thing -- this bunch of yahoos makes George W. Bush look good.
Kevin is probably right that Bush sees this controversy and isn't too happy about the glee with which his GOP comrades are expressing and encouraging religious bigotry in such a profoundly un-American way. And Matt is right that Bush could, if he wanted, stand up and say something about it. But here's my question: Is there not a single prominent Republican out there who will do so? Isn't there a governor, or a senator, or even a congressman, who is willing to go on television and say, "This is America, and we believe in freedom of religion. And freedom of religion means freedom for all religions"? Is there not a single bigshot Republican who actually believes in the First Amendment and is willing to say so? Anyone? Anyone?
-- Paul Waldman