I read with little surprise yesterday the GOP criticism of President Obama's defense of the right of American citizens to build a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan (the so-called "ground zero mosque" controversy). John Boehner, for example, finds the decision to build a community center a few blocks from ground zero "deeply troubling"? Yawn. Then I got to Newt Gingrich's remarks, which were ...bizarre.
Gingrich, as quoted in Sunday's New York Times, said that Obama was "pandering to radical Islam." Pandering?
One dictionary definition of pandering is to pimp--to furnish clients for a prostitute. Another is to cater basely. This is generally the usage involved in political settings; pols are accused of pandering when they are transparently sucking up to powerful constituencies in the hopes of receiving some sort of reward. Mitt Romney switching from being a vocal supporter of abortion rights, for example, to being a vehement opponent just as he's deciding to run for president can be described as a pander to social conservatives in the hopes of securing the party's nomination. Sen. John McCain's hard swing back to the right on issues like immigration after being a voice of centrist reason seems to be a pander to primary voters in the hope retaining his senatorial office. One might even argue that Newt's weird warnings about sharia law and Islamic triumphalism are a form of presidential aspiration driven pandering.
And while I disagree with the critics of the proposed Muslim community center, there are plenty of quasi-rational criticisms one can level against the president. New York GOP Rep. Peter King, who used to be more sensible, said that Obama has "caved in to political correctness," for example. I personally disagree and think King has caved in to cheap political calculations and demagoguery, but I can at least see the logic of the charge.
But Newt thinks that Obama is ... pandering to radical Islam? To what end? Because radical Muslims are a powerful force in American politics? Obama is hoping to stave off a radical Muslim-driven primary challenge?
Perhaps Newt's not running for president but is, rather, planning to become a political comedian. But if he was serious then he's less and less someone to be taken seriously.