One good way to measure Obama’s performance as president, I think, is by the degree to which he meets this famous pledge:
The easiest thing in the world for a politician to do is to tell you exactly what you want to hear. But if we want to finally solve the challenges we’re facing right now, we need to tell the American people what they need to hear.
Obama certainly hasn’t always met that standard. But in declaring his support for allowing the so-called Ground Zero mosque to be opened in New York City, Obama has done something very much in defiance of public opinion and very much in line, it seems, with what is in his heart.
And note that his statement was all-in. I might have imagined Obama the conciliator finding a middle-ground position, for instance by arguing that the state has no right to block the mosque, but simultaneously suggesting that in the name of comity and respect the mosque’s founders might find a less inflammatory site. He didn’t. Now let the political fallout begin. Update, 3:47pm: Or maybe not so all-in? Obama’s follow-up comments today are actually closer to the compromise view above, although Obama doesn’t explicitly criticize the mosque’s proposed location.
P.S. I can think of one motive behind Obama’s position beyond It’s The Right Thing, and that is his mission of reconciling America’s image with the Muslim world. Although I’m skeptical that your typical Muslim will be moved more by this controversy than by, say, the nearly 200,000 U.S. troops still occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp more than six months after Obama vowed it would be closed.