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Why are Republicans turning an easy win into a complicated one?

One political question about the Ground Zero Islamic complex/mosque/theater-space/swimming pool: Why are Republicans trumpeting this? And why, a week or two ago, did they start talking about the 14th amendment? Republicans are going to win a lot of seats this year. And they're going to do it on the backs of the economy. Getting into social issues -- particularly social issues that might anger minorities -- is a dangerous play. It loses them long-term votes that they just don't need to lose. It paints their party as intolerant and opportunistic. And it's unnecessary: It's not like they're hurting for things to talk about.

Gene Healy thinks he's got an answer: "The 'mosque' controversy isn't about property rights or religious freedom.," he writes. "It's a bogus issue seized by the GOP establishment to distract the rank-and-file from the party's reluctance to shrink government." Will Wilkinson disagrees. "This idiotic foofaraw could be a distraction only if the GOP rank-and-file actually cared more about the size of government than the cultural politics of American identity," he replies. "But they don’t."

So what's the truth here? Is the mosque -- and the social issues more generally -- driven by elites? Or by rank-and-file? Does the GOP want to talk about the social issues because they prefer it to talking about the economy or because they don't feel like they have a choice?

By Ezra Klein  |  August 17, 2010; 1:55 PM ET
 
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Comments

The problem for Republicans was that people were starting to say "what will they actually *do* if they win ?". And that was leading to substantial coverage of Ryan's plan to give huge tax cuts to the wealthy while taking the axe to Social Security and Medicare. And Boehner's ridiculous idea for a halt to all new regulations.

If the focus of the election coverage is on Republican policies, then they're in big trouble. But ... oh! ... look at that shiny object over there ... Terrorist babies! ... Ground Zero mosque ... Sorry, no time to talk about policy, gotta run.

Posted by: richardcownie | August 17, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Whipping up nativists' fury always works for the GOP in the short term (see 1928, for example) but sooner or later people realize that they can't govern. So they are doing it to distract from their lack of economic ideas. When the long run rolls around they will find another scapegoat.

I remember recently an analysis that the tea partiers weren't really interested in the social issues like gays and abortion, just taxes and immigration. That seems to be true, as we now hear virtually nothing about gays and abortion--its all about scary brown people including Muslims.

Whoever said that Cordoba House is this year's Terry Schiavo is pretty perceptive. That issue also appealed largely to marginal personalities who feared being pushed aside themselves on some level. Death panels works in the same psychological way. This isse seems also to bring out those of various faiths who fear marginalization and annihilation, aided and abetted by those no-faith opportunists like Gingrich.

But Terry Schiavo was the first of a series of events like Karina that exposed the bankruptcy of the Bush and GOP philosophy, and was kind of the beginning of the end for Bush. That should be a cautionary tale for the GOP, but I think they just can't resist the temptation to wave those sheets one more time.

Posted by: Mimikatz | August 17, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Ezra:

This is just another proxy battle to hate on Democrats and particularly New Yorkers, whose tragedy they're trying to appropriate to feed their ever-ravenous aggrieved beast. Go back and read "Nixonland": this holy-war hatred conservatives feel for anyone to the left of Olympia Snowe endures forever. They're intent on destroying the Democratic party, period. Identity politics, pure and simple -- and if the GOP does well in November, nihilism will become their modus operandi.

But hey, I hear Paul Ryan is a real stand-up guy with awesome ideas about deficit reduction. Time for another interview?

Posted by: scarlota | August 17, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the Republicans have not talked about the economy, nor national security, nor any other substantive matter for many years. Even when Bush was President, the Republicans refused to talk about Social Security (dumped it in 2005), Immigration (dumped it in 2007), or the budget (deficits don't matter).

And a month or so ago, their plan if they take control of the Congress is 'TBD': to be determined.

So, appeals to fear and bigotry is about all that's left. Sadly, far too many people want to listen.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | August 17, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scorpion_and_the_Frog

Posted by: WHSTCL | August 17, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

What political cost?

One percent of the electorate? How many states will the GOP lose because of demagoging this issue?

How many viewers will Fox News risk losing because they're playing up this story? Will any of the 65+ white guys who watch Hannity really feel inclined to turn off the channel because of this?

There is almost no political risk to doing this.

The GOP might lose some long-time donors, but perhaps they'll generate some new donations from bigots in the interim. And yes, there is a chance that the lies might be exposed and that people might care about the truth enough to be upset about the lies. Unlike the Sherrod case though, some of the blatant falsehoods have been given time to become established (e.g. "Ground Zero Mosque" -- every element is false).

I'm not surprised though that the GOP is doing this.

It's a lot easier to fight a culture war than it is to solve intractable problems, or to answer for dirty money that is flowing into GOP interest groups during this election cycle.

In fact a pogrom might serve the GOP's political purposes. They can let their base persecute a marginalized minority group, while giving rich folks more tax cuts. If they're doing anything really wrong too, the Courts will correct the mistake, right? Right?

The other side of this is that some of these people -- guys like Gingrich -- who are really pushing this story, are positioning themselves for 2012. He doesn't care about 2010.

Posted by: JPRS | August 17, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

My question is, why does the GOP have such an ability to sieze the media for whatever reason they choose?

Answer: it's a corporate media, and no party shills for corporate interests like the GP does.

Posted by: lauren2010 | August 17, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Might be fun to compare the Republican rants on the Mosque to their statements on Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which the passed with the express intent to force megachurches on communities in violation of local zoning laws. Religious freedom is for born-again Christians in their constitution. The rest of us be damned.

Posted by: Mulch5 | August 17, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

First, "why, a week or two ago, did they [the GOP] start talking about the 14th amendment?"

The discussion about the 14th was initiated by Harry Reid, a Democrat, in 1993, when he "determined and hereby declares that any person born after the date of enactment of this title to a mother who is neither a citizen of the United States nor admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident, and which person is a national or citizen of another country of which either of his or her natural parents is a national or citizen, or is entitled upon application to become a national or citizen of such country, shall be considered as born subject to the jurisdiction of that foreign country and not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States" [S. 1351]

Second, "Is the mosque an issue driven by elites?" According to polling data, the percentage of Democrats who support the Park51 project is smaller than the percentage of Republicans who question Obama's citizenship. When should the ideas of a minority be considered? In this case, the minority supports -- actively endorses -- the construction of what the majority agrees is, at best, a demonstration of horrible taste and judgment.

The question is broader than the mosque issue. At what point do we return to our roots and grant similar latitude to all people, regardless of income or race or message? Why can't the rich man use his money as he sees fit?

Posted by: rmgregory | August 17, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

*There is almost no political risk to doing this.*

How many Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists, to say nothing of Muslims, are going to be turned on to the GOP over this? How about the non-religious? This is only going to be able to work in a very-low-turnout environment, which may be the case in 2010. But in 2012, it will be ruinous.

Posted by: constans | August 17, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

rmgregory @ August 17, 2010 2:31 PM wrote "The discussion about the 14th was initiated by Harry Reid, a Democrat, in 1993,"

REALLY???!!! We've been talking about it for 17 years!!!!!!!

I have truly missed it. Can you please point me to the numerous discussions and articles and other links that will prove to me that I have been asleep for 17 years. PLEASE!!!!!!

Or you can develop a modicum of reason and admit that you ... misspoke (that's the word). At least if you can acknowledge that you will be something other than just a hack.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | August 17, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Ask Harry Ried, he's using the same talking points.

Posted by: obrier2 | August 17, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Sadly it is an issue that appeals to the large religious wing of the party, and they need to get them out to vote too.

They are probably also looking at it as an opportunity to get Democrats to say stupid or wishy-washy things that they can stick into commercials.

Maybe it's time to look at eliminating the tax breaks we give to these religious organizations. That could start a real holy war...

Posted by: staticvars | August 17, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

AMviennaVA writes:
"REALLY???!!! We've been talking about it for 17 years!!!!!!! I have truly missed it. Can you please point me to the numerous discussions and articles and other links that will prove to me that I have been asleep for 17 years. PLEASE!!!!!!"

Sure! Here's the link to the copy of Reid's 14th Amendment Bill as stored by the GPO:

http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=103_cong_bills&docid=f:s1351is.txt.pdf

Full text of the remarks Reid delivered on the floor are also available from the GPO and the National Archives. The Washington Post covered the story back then -- and materials are available in their archive: in fact, Janet Napolitano commented in favor of Reid's proposal, says the WaPo.

If I can offer any other factual information, please do let me know!

Posted by: rmgregory | August 17, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Ezra's right -- there are significant costs to this, but they're all long-term.

In my opinion, the only incentive that is worth analyzing was on the part of whoever *started* the story -- those individuals were Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. All incentives after that are hardly worth discussing, because there wasn't going to be any percentage for a Republican in opposing it. In that sense it was not "strategic" because it was those two people who started it -- everything after that was responsive. It snowballed.

Other than that, I don't know about the incentives of appeasing the base -- Kevin Drum wrote shrewdly about that a couple of weeks ago -- the GOP base is bigger, relative to the Dem base. The Democratic Party is larger, but there's less base in it.

And the fact is, conservative thought is so toxic right now that if you find yourself observing something akin to a reasonable conservative opinion -- opposition to something called a "9/11 mosque" is not so strange, after all -- you just have to wait ten seconds for someone with a completely UN-reasonable position to hog the spotlight. Thus we have people coming out of the woodwork who say "no mosques anywhere" or "we should start deporting Muslims" or whatever.

A particularly good example of this is in the immigration debate. Strictly speaking, the conservative position is opposition to illegal immigration -- but that's a cover for widespread irrational hatred for Spanish-speakers. You can TRY to present the narrow, legalistic, economic case against illegal immigration, but wait ten seconds and you'll have someone come along who thinks Spanish speakers are going to turn the U-S-A into the Third World. And then you get Tea Partyers and Neo-Nazis marching together in solidarity -- as happened a couple of days ago.

The fact is, the GOP base cares a lot more about the red-meat, cultural-grievance issues than it does about the other stuff, so all debates in which the GOP perceives an advantage devolve to the worst possible motives of conservatives. Basically, conservative thought is terribly sick right now. It needs help, but what it'll get is a big dose of misguided positive reinforcement in the form of a good Election Day in four months. So it'll stay sick a while longer.

Posted by: wovenstrap | August 17, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

I think the purpose is to inoculate the poorer classes against supporting any form of social justice, though demonizing liberals and other decent or justice-minded leaders by associating them with muslims (the enemy du jour).

Posted by: harold3 | August 17, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

The best answer is the simplest: they are pushing this issue because they want to. Elites or base, it makes no difference. The GOP is the nativist party.

They don't care about long term demographics, they'd rather demonize religious and racial minorities than try to curry their favor for votes. Why? Who knows. Raw tribalism is the best answer.

It's emotional identity politics of the worst kind, but because it's appealing to conservative white people, of course it's not divisive or un-American. They are the only real Americans, and the rest of us have to behave like guests. That's the message, because that's the belief. There is no strategy.

But that's to be expected at this point. What's more chilling is the Democrats weak-kneed and confusing response. The difference between Obama's defense of the Constitution (what could be more "hallowed" than that) and Reid's opportunist politicking is only one example.

Posted by: StPaulite | August 17, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

yes because the Dems aren't about to politicize SS reform. Its amazing the comparisons that can be drawn to the "death panel" talk of last year and the "catfood commission" many liberals talk up.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 17, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

"How many Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists, to say nothing of Muslims, are going to be turned on to the GOP over this? How about the non-religious?"

Constans,

Are any of those groups large Republican voting blocs?

It would be reasonable to expect the increased turnout of hard core social conservatives offsets any loss from the above mentioned groups. If those voters were leaning Republican then it's hard to imagine they'd turn to the Democrats - more likely than not they stay home.

Posted by: justin84 | August 17, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

If the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" is an issue for you in the voting booth, then you were never going to vote Democrat anyway. The problem with the GOP is that lately they've been applying "litmus tests" by way of the Tea Party. A lot of these moderate or conservative Democrats that were elected in '06 and '08 should, by logic,the first to be voted out, but a lot of these people are going to be saved because they're going up against extreme candidates backed by Sarah Palin, Jim DeMint et al. Looks like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory isn't strictly a Democratic move anymore.

Posted by: RonfromNYC | August 17, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

justin84:

In 2000, Muslims went heavily for Bush because he was a social conservative and they've been punished for it in the ten years since.

Just like Hispanics (and blacks... and Jews... and Catholics), Republicans are happily alienating for generations a constituency that would be otherwise be extremely receptive to their message of social conservatism because they've proven incapable of reigning in the raging bigotry toward all things non-WASP in their party.

Posted by: lol-lol | August 17, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

I think this is driven by the base, not GOP strategists. The "Ground Zero Mosque" story was created by rightwing media and pundits who seized on the story as a good way to excite their audiences. The Birthright citizenship debate was started by Senator Lindsey Graham, who used the issue to bolster his credentials with the base.

@rmgregory - Four years ago, Senator Reid profusely apologized on the Senate floor for introducing that bill. Greg Sergeant has the history here: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/08/yes_reid_tried_to_end_birthrig.html

I don't recall any public discussion of the issue at that time, or since, until Senator Graham ignited the current debate.

Posted by: QuiteAlarmed | August 17, 2010 3:12 PM | Report abuse

Addendum: by "social justice" I mean economic justice through redistribution of wealth, regulations on usury, pollution and the like, and making education more affordable and more rewarding for the teachering profession.

Posted by: harold3 | August 17, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

@remgregory: "When should the ideas of a minority be considered?"

There are many times when the rights of minorities ought to be considered, but its most important that we do so when the matter involves one of the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, like freedom of religion. Protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority is kind of the whole point of the Bill of Rights.

Posted by: QuiteAlarmed | August 17, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

rmgregory @ August 17, 2010 2:50 PM: 1 document, in 1993, is the 'numerous discussions and articles and other links'!!!!

I've heard of the new math, but you are really stretching things.

Yes, in 1993 Reid said something. And has since said it was a mistake. That is not why the Republicans went berserk a couple of weeks ago. Unless you believe that Republicans are so devoid of substance and judgement that it takes them 17 years to read something and decide to support it. Even I do think that!

Be serious now.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | August 17, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

lol-lol,

I'm sure you're right on those numbers.

On a short-term basis, the GOP probably believes that for every alienated Muslim it is picking up three social conservatives who would otherwise stay home.

That may be a foolish long term strategy as the minority population expands, but as a rule the GOP seems more concerned with gaining and holding power in the short term than anything else.

Posted by: justin84 | August 17, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

"I think the purpose is to inoculate the poorer classes against supporting any form of social justice, though demonizing liberals and other decent or justice-minded leaders by associating them with muslims (the enemy du jour)."

I think there might be something here. If you look at voting behavior and public opinion literatures, party affiliations matter a great deal - those affiliation, tend to vote more often, etc etc. What exactly is a party affiliation? There's a lot of debate, but one view is proposed by three authors (Green, Shickler, and Palmquist). To get to the bare bones: party affiliations depend on stereotypes about what sort of groups are aligned with each other. By putting the issue on the table, you can force the Democrats to side with groups that can then be, or already are, demagogued (feminists, Muslims, blacks, liberals, etc etc).

The Republicans, then, are playing a game: while they might lose some identifiers/voters over their allegiance with intolerant groups, if they can prevent or peel off affiliations on the Democratic side because the Democrats are seen by more people as the party of "teh Muslims" and so on, then they may very well think they can win overall.

Posted by: y2josh_us | August 17, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,
Factor in the third party in the back-and-forth between Republican elites and their rank-and-file: corporate interests. With them in mind, it is not so much a question of who is creating the pressure in which arena: economic or social issues.
The problem becomes that Republican leaders, should they assume control of Congress, can try shrink the government, which would mean major corporate interests either get hosed or get Ben-Nelson-style exemptions, which would piss off the rank-and-file.
Simply, it doesn't matter which side is driving the rhetoric on government in the Republican Party because there is a third party that must also be accomodated in a way that Republicans' rhetoric has made impossible.

Posted by: ctown_woody | August 17, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

rmgregory says some of the most ridiculous kinds of things I have ever heard.

For example, because he can point to someone talking about the 14th amendment 17 years ago, that somehow means that person is responsible for all similar discussions today.

Besides, I'd gladly give up reid if we could also give up all the other nihilists and propagandists like rmgregory and his GOP friends.

Posted by: lauren2010 | August 17, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the conversation about the 14th amendment was started by the Republicans who controlled Congress in 1866.

Posted by: thehersch | August 17, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

justin84:

See that's the thing - what conservatives are turning out for the mid-terms over this issue that weren't already turning out?

Maybe it sways some independents or something... but the base doesn't need anymore riling up.

That's why I think the Dems should go ahead with immigration reform this year - it's not going to turn out anymore Republicans than are already heading for the polls to vote against them but it would energize elements of the Democratic base.

Posted by: lol-lol | August 17, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

The mosque controversy is media driven -- Republicans are commenting on it because they are being asked by the media -- when they answer the questions, then the media and bloggers claim the Republicans are obsessed with cultural issues. The great majority of conservatives and Republicans seem to be silent on the issue. Gingrich is not the Republican Party. It appears the media is taking advantage of the controversy to frame conservatives as bigots and such. Independents and conservative voters will not be voting on this issue.

Posted by: mdfarmer | August 17, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

There are many reasons individual Republican candidates have trumpted this controversy, but I think you may be asking the bigger question, "why has the party leadership decided this was a national, election year issue?"

I think you can find motive in the talking points. Cornyn said the American people "sense that they’re being lectured to, not listened to." This fits a standard GOP attack against Dems. "Disconnected from the mainstream." “It tells you that he [Obama] has a very disdainful view of the American people.” The GOP wants to be the champion of the people against the arrogant democrats who lecture about liberal ideals and force an elitist Washington decision onto a local issue. Lots of buzz words that following a single theme, Dems don't care what you think, they just care about making you conform to their socialist agenda.

The theme continues: "Sure, there is a right to build there, but the people still think that it is wrong." The GOP wants to highlight the Dems' arrogance, even though it is not a question for the people, it is a question for the law, constitutional law. "It's a local issue" even though the law is clear that it is not. "The people will decided" even though the people's emotions should not and do not veto constitutional rights.

The issue fits a standard anti-dem theme. It has been claimed that the issue resonates because the "tea party movement liberat[ed] the inner bigot in people." That may be true for some, but what is more relevant to the original question is that emotions are easy targets and the GOP believes that anger and fear make for good politics, especially in a national referendum on Obama and the Democratic Party.

Posted by: MassachusettsLiberalinDC | August 17, 2010 5:19 PM | Report abuse

Two great comments above:

QuiteAlarmed writes: "There are many times when the rights of minorities ought to be considered, but its most important that we do so when the matter involves one of the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, like freedom of religion. Protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority is kind of the whole point of the Bill of Rights."

mdfarmer Writes: "The mosque controversy is media driven -- Republicans are commenting on it because they are being asked by the media -- when they answer the questions, then the media and bloggers claim the Republicans are obsessed with cultural issues. The great majority of conservatives and Republicans seem to be silent on the issue."

I happen to agree with both points and appreciated the facts presented in the Howard Kurtz column earlier today (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/17/AR2010081701473.htm). Policy mistakes -- such as Reid's 1993 mistake and Reid's 2010 religious exemption mistake in the PPACA -- happen: denying they happened does not cure the problems, ignoring the Constitution does not cure the problems, and comments from the media -- including the baiting comments made by Klein in the message commencing this thread -- do not cure the problems. As I mentioned earlier today, the Constitution shouldn't be ignored in the mosque matter, just as it shouldn't be ignored in the PPACA matter.

Posted by: rmgregory | August 17, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I agree with AMviennaVA, the purpose is to keep the narrative off of the fact that Republicans have no agenda should they win the election. And it’s also to keep people in New York off the fact that Republicans just voted down the 9/11 responders bill. And finally, it helps their narrative that accuses Obama of supporting terrorists and supports their modern version of the Southern strategy.

Posted by: JimFromDenver | August 17, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

haha. "The Media" are the ones planning to hold hearings over whether the 14th amendment should be repealed?

Christ, this backtracking is hilarious (see rmgregory). It's like you dolts are fully aware of how dumb the whole repeal idea actually is but you're too bigoted to stop talking about doing it.

Posted by: lol-lol | August 17, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

"haha. "The Media" are the ones planning to hold hearings over whether the 14th amendment should be repealed?

Christ, this backtracking is hilarious (see rmgregory). It's like you dolts are fully aware of how dumb the whole repeal idea actually is but you're too bigoted to stop talking about doing it."

Huh? I don't think I've ever talked about the 14th amendment, but the ones who are are talking about an economic issue. In 15 to 20 years we could have millions more citizens practically overnight -- our economy will not likely be able to absorb the influx -- if we stop statism and return to a free market, we might need the extra citizens.

Posted by: mdfarmer | August 17, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

I think Ezra is asking, fundamentally-- given that political scientists would predict that the Republicans will pick up a bunch of seats, simply on the basis of the weakness of the economy, why aren't they talking more about the economy. But I'm not positive that the political science suggests that _talking_ about the economy would make any difference at all. Maybe a weak economy makes people just more receptive to any ideas (bad or good) from the opposition party, and people thinking they are voting for those ideas, NOT consciously against the economic policies of the incumbents. This would explain the "Paul Ryan is a great guy meme" of recent weeks.

Posted by: jacobh | August 17, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

@rmgregory: "The discussion about the 14th was initiated by Harry Reid, a Democrat, in 1999"

Actually it was initiated just recently by another Democrat. Lyndsey Graham.

Ba-dum-dum!

I got a million of 'em, folks.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 17, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

"So what's the truth here? Is the mosque -- and the social issues more generally -- driven by elites? Or by rank-and-file? Does the GOP want to talk about the social issues because they prefer it to talking about the economy or because they don't feel like they have a choice?"

I think much of it is driven by the base, because these are issues they care about--radical Islam, illegal immigration. However, the party muckety-mucks either don't know how to address the issues in an substantive sense, or don't want to, so they jump on issues like the Ground Zero Former Burlington Coat Factory Community Center in order to appear as if they are "serious" about their opposition to "radical Islam" and it's apologists. When, in fact, they are doing next to nothing.

Birthright citizenship--here is something they can propose, make a lot of noise about, where nothing practical is going to happen, but angry liberals will be offended, and offend angry tea partiers, and something magic happens and the GOP gets more votes than ever!

Again, I think it's essentially: our base wants us to be addressing these issues. How do we do that? Well, let's do this little dance. Oooh! They like that! Do some more! Hoo-hoo! They really like that. This is awesome. We're sure to get elected in November!

The polls show it's not doing any damage to the GOP thus far.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | August 17, 2010 10:30 PM | Report abuse

constans,

Fine point about the off-year election which is largely a question of turning out the base.

With respect to religious minorities, you're talking about less than 5 percent of the population that self-identifies as Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, or Muslim. Within that cohort there are division politically that are unlikely to be unified by this particular incident (e.g. look at the ADL's stance, look at Krauthammer's column on the construction, given divisions between Hindus and Muslims I suspect that many will be reluctant to risk sticking their heads out unless there is wide-spread opposition to Gingrich, Palin style demagoguery). Absolute best case you're looking at a unified bloc of perhaps 3 percent of the electorate spread across the country. How many of those votes were in play to begin with?

So from the GOP's perspective there is very little political risk to these kind of maneuvers right now.

Even in terms of a bigger issue like immigration you'd think that the GOP would position itself to court and split Latino voters -- many of whom have sympathy with the GOP's socially conservative dogma (true as well with portions of the African-American religious community). Yet aside from tokenism in selecting Steele as RNC chair, they've actively abandoned these outreach efforts and done things to undermine the efforts both through official and unofficial communication networks. Instead since 2008 they've re-calibrated and tried to make inroads with white women (outreach that is more acceptable to the party base).

In the case of someone like Gingrich and the other GOP hopefuls for 2012 much of the positioning is about currying favor with the part of the GOP that will decide the 2012 nomination process (the GOP base). Religious pluralism isn't exactly a platform that's likely to win the GOP nomination for the foreseeable future.

The reality is that there aren't many GOPers or even Dems taking a stand. These professional pols aren't oblivious to popular opinion -- they are very aware of it. Their statements and actions reflect that reality. Until the momentum turns you won't find many politicians getting on the other side of the issue -- even if there's a strong argument and Constitutional principle at stake against pandering to religious bigotry.

Posted by: JPRS | August 18, 2010 3:37 AM | Report abuse

Kevin_Willis @ August 17, 2010 10:22 PM wrote "Actually it was initiated just recently by another Democrat. Lyndsey Graham."

Good one! I should have thought of it.

Posted by: AMviennaVA | August 18, 2010 8:58 AM | Report abuse

You're an economist, so you assume a rational actor. If you were wrong about that, what would follow?

Posted by: stonedone | August 18, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

IT APPEARS THE LIBBIES ARE REALLY GOING BERSERK!

Nearly 2 years of Obamao - and everything has only gotten worse!

But, I love their desperation!

NO SHRINE TO OBL AT GROUND ZERO!

Posted by: neal4 | August 18, 2010 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Ezra and many of the commenters above must be living in a different world. I'm a New York Democrat -- always been a Democrat. I don't like the mosque and believe it would be a travesty to build it, although Rauf and company have a clear right to build it (which is Obama's position, is it not?). Most of the people I know are Democrats, albeit not pundits, political junkies or Dem Party hangers on and very few of them think the mosque OUGHT to be built. Harry Reid agrees with us, too. What's the mystery about why the GOP would stick it to Dem leaders and pundits who refuse to recognize that most Americans across the political spectrum -- and indeed, most New Yorkers -- don't like the mosque!

Posted by: jeburke242 | August 18, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Ezra...The mosque discussion has been dominated by the liberal media, a liberal President and liberal Senators.

Think about it; since President Bush asked for stricter mortgage regulation; and then Barney Frank and Democrats in Congress assured us that their was NO risk of a housing meltdown; this was what ultimately drove "the house into a ditch" and cause today's econonomic turmoil.

I guess Dems figure their economic agenda is a subject they don't want to discuss. At this point they would prefer to discuss the insensitive comments made by the President.

Posted by: ELF2 | August 18, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

I hadn't noticed the Republicans interjecting themselves much into the mosque debate aside from a few that you can count on to spout off on any issue that comes along, like Gingrich and Palin.
It seems to the contrary that it is the Democrats who have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to take a stand on the matter that doesn't alienate them either from the general public or their progressive base.


As to the birthright citizenship issue, I'm not sure why it was brought up at this particular time and I doubt you will hear much more about it this election cycle.

I do believe it was a healthy thing that it got brought up because it is historically inevitable that the policy of granting citizenship to the US born children of illegal aliens will be reversed sooner or later. And I think it is an appropriate point in the evolution of this issue that mainstream politicians start facing it.

It's a stretch that it is any sort of political liability when the public opposes birthright citizenship for illegal aliens by about a 2 to 1 margin. With that strong a margin there are no doubt a lot of Latino Americans that share that view and those that don't aren't liable to vote for Republicans irrespective of that particular issue.

Don't forget, 47% of Latino voters supported Arizona's proposition 200 despite its begin demonized by the entire political establishment of both parties as racist and the rest of the standard demonization.

Posted by: bot_feeder | August 18, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Ezra...The mosque discussion has been dominated by the liberal media, a liberal President and liberal Senators.

Think about it; since President Bush asked for stricter mortgage regulation; and then Barney Frank and Democrats in Congress assured us that their was NO risk of a housing meltdown; this was what ultimately drove "the house into a ditch" and caused today's econonomic turmoil.

I guess Dems figure their economic agenda is a subject they don't want to discuss. At this point they would prefer to discuss the insensitive comments made by the President.

Posted by: ELF2 | August 18, 2010 8:45 PM | Report abuse

I hadn't noticed the Republicans interjecting themselves much into the mosque debate aside from a few that you can count on to spout off on any issue that comes along, like Gingrich and Palin.
It seems to the contrary that it is the Democrats who have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to take a stand on the matter that doesn't alienate them either from the general public or their progressive base.


As to the birthright citizenship issue, I'm not sure why it was brought up at this particular time and I doubt you will hear much more about it this election cycle.

I do believe it was a healthy thing that it got brought up because it is historically inevitable that the policy of granting citizenship to the US born children of illegal aliens will be reversed sooner or later. And I think it is an appropriate point in the evolution of this issue that mainstream politicians start facing it.

It's a stretch that it is any sort of political liability when the public opposes birthright citizenship for illegal aliens by about a 2 to 1 margin. With that strong a margin there are no doubt a lot of Latino Americans that share that view and those that don't aren't liable to vote for Republicans irrespective of that particular issue.

Don't forget, 47% of Latino voters supported Arizona's proposition 200 despite its begin demonized by the entire political establishment and media as racist and the rest of the standard demonization.

Posted by: bot_feeder | August 18, 2010 8:46 PM | Report abuse

This is an easy issue to grasp, and the difficulty of Klein and those on the left grasping it is either feigned or obtuseness.

It's really simple. No one is saying that Muslims shouldn't be allowed to build mosques in the US. No one is saying they shouldn't be allowed to worship as they please.

But putting a mosque on the site where a bunch of muslims blew up buildings in lower Manhattan makes it look like a victory for the terrorists and it's a gross insult to the people who died. It's an act of triumphalism.

Put the freakin' mosque somewhere else.

70 percent of New Yorkers get it. Harry Reid gets it. The majority of the country gets it.

But a 20 someone liberal journalist can't seem to get.


Posted by: BHaney70 | August 18, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

Dude, why exactly do you have this job, THIS job of political commentary? You bring zero insight, and no interest. You're just dumbfounded? You think that there's some top-down directed operation at work here, but you just aren't smart enough to figure it out? (Yes to the latter, no to the former.)

Everything that many people agree on, including some who have a public position and the ability (and call) to speak about it, isn't an operation or a campaign, man. You think it's a posture for everyone speaking on it? (Except those who agree with you, of course.) Maybe they're saying what they believe because they do believe it and hope to have it make a difference. Just consider that for once in your narrow-minded life.

There's not a meta-motive for everything, just because you think that those who think something different from you are evil.

Here's the thought experiment that you need to do: Ask and answer this: If opponents of the mosque oppose construction at Ground Zero, but not on empty land a mile away, or anywhere outside Ground Zero, are they still bigots? If they don't oppose the construction of the mosque outside Ground Zero, that pretty much destroys the "bigoted un-American Islamophobes" line, doesn't it.

Posted by: d1stewart | August 18, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Yes Ezra, why would any politician want to come down on the 70% side of a 70/30 issue? That is a head scratcher.

Posted by: Truthteller12 | August 18, 2010 9:49 PM | Report abuse

"Here's the thought experiment that you need to do: Ask and answer this: If opponents of the mosque oppose construction at Ground Zero, but not on empty land a mile away, or anywhere outside Ground Zero, are they still bigots?"

First, read the post. Nowhere does Ezra call anyone "evil" or a "bigot." He does raise the possibility that for some of the Republican politicians who are exploiting this issue, they may be doing so for political motivations. So if there is any name calling in this post, it is to say that politicians may have political motives for positions that they espouse.

Second, the development is not proposed to be "at" Ground Zero, It is proposed to in the old Burlington Coat Factory, which is indeed "outside" Ground Zero. "Thought experiment" successfully completed.

And here is the "thought experiment" that YOU need to do. Provide a direct answer to the following question.

If we are to suspend the First Amendment within a certain proximity of the "hallowed ground," please specify the exact distance around the perimeter before the US Constitution again pertains?

I am interested in knowing the exact size of the zone within which the Bill of Rights becomes void, and the means by which that area is calculated.

Posted by: Patrick_M | August 18, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

Pity those poor addled Republicans. President Obama is handing them so much ammunition they can't resist using all of it against him instead of limiting themselves to a single silver bullet.

As a result, voters are going to be left with the impression that Obama is not only a big spender, a job killer and a bureaucracy bloater, but also a shameless Islamopanderer. What a disaster for the GOP. Its candidates will probably end up with control of both house of Congress, and they'll only have themselves to blame.

John D. Hartigan
Chevy Chase, MD

Posted by: hartlex | August 19, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse

birthright citizenship is every bit as good and popular a public policy issue as the economy. its one of those "nation of laws" that you were so found of talking about the past few years ezra. we are still a separate nation from mexico, you know that right? we dont need to allow the children of mexican nationals illegall present in the US to be citizens. indeed, it would make the US more like those European countries you love. among industrialized countries only canada has birthright citizenship. if it was 1,500 miles south of where it is, they would probably change it too.

Posted by: dummypants | August 19, 2010 2:16 AM | Report abuse

Klein nails it!

It is the Republicans that are dysfunctional on this one.

The Republicans.

Is the journolist a mailing list or just an alternative universe?

Posted by: TECWRITE | August 19, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

the economy is old news. the rapid right-wing pundits need something new to rail against, and what better target is there that foreigners, especially those who worship another god.

Posted by: SnowleopardNZ | August 19, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

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