The president, on a quick vacation/oil spill solidarity tour in the Gulf, tempered his defense of the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan:
My intention was to simply let people know what I thought, which was that in this country we treat everbody equally in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion. I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That’s what our country is about and I think it’s very important, as difficult as some of these issues are, that we stay focused on who we are as a people and what our values are all about.
While his latest comments don’t technically contradict anything he said Friday night, they strike me as a bit inconsistent in spirit. Initially, he seemed to be making the case that while the area around Ground Zero is “hallowed ground,” there’s nothing at all about the expression of Islam that should offend that sensibility. “Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam,” he said. “It is a gross distortion of Islam.” Now he’s basically leaving the door open to the argument that the construction of the community center is “unwise.” Few of the mosque’s detractors deny the fundamental first amendment rights at play here. If that’s all Obama is defending, his stand is something less than bold. In fact, it’s about in line with public sentiment.
UPDATE: The White House pushes back a bit in a statement to Politico:
Just to be clear, the President is not backing off in any way from the comments he made last night.