The nation’s attention has been captured by the proposed construction of an Islamic mosque and cultural community center on the southern end of Manhattan.
Located just a couple of blocks from the center of ground zero--where towers one and two of the World Trade Center stood until they were attacked and destroyed by radical Islamic terrorists on the morning of September 11, 2001--the choice of the site has been criticized as being offensive, especially to the families of the victims of 9/11.
A recent poll of New York voters conducted by Siena College showed 63 percent of the 788 registered voters surveyed between August 9 and August 16 are strongly opposed to the project. Nationally, nearly 70 percent of Americans oppose it according to a poll released last week by CNN.
It’s a hot issue, so much so that even President Barack Obama has weighed in, telling those at a White House dinner held to mark the start of the Muslim holiday of Ramadan that he viewed the issue as a matter of religious freedom, protected under the Constitution by the First Amendment.
The symbolism is powerful. The poll numbers almost irresistible, especially to those who believe that a politician can always find success by associating themselves on the prevailing side of an issue that splits 70/30 or 80/20, leading some Republicans to seize the issue and try to make it important, foolishly in my judgment, to the fall campaign.
First off--and symbolism aside--this is a local New York issue. And though many voters, both in New York and nationally, may have strong feelings one way or the other those feelings don’t necessarily translate into support on Election Day. It is usually a mistake to confuse intensity with importance, as may be the case here.
Secondly, the GOP has a much stronger case to make regarding Obama and Democrats mismanaging the U.S. economy. Unemployment is still up near 10 percent. Underemployment is, according to some analysts, at its highest point in many years. And the U.S. economy is flat on its back. These are issues that matter to every one and on which every Democrat incumbent seeking re-election has a record from which they cannot run away.
It is easy for them, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid did just the other day, to get on “the right side” of the New York mosque issue. It is almost impossible for them to get on the right side of their records-- not with so many people wondering if the will have a job at the end of the year, if taxes will go up, and if their children’s futures are being floating away down a fast-moving river of red ink emanating from Washington.
Going into November the GOP should lead with its strongest arguments, which are not necessarily the ones that make for good media hits.