Obama’s Hope Covers Muslims, Middle East, Not Bipartisanship

Obama’s conference offered more hope for conciliation between disparate religions than between parties.

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What does it say about the state of American politics that President’s Obama’s news conference offered more hope for conciliation between disparate religions and between feuding parties in the Middle East than it did for Democrats and Republicans?

A day before the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the Internet- and media-accelerated controversy over a stupid plan to burn Korans in Florida appears to have waned. The Gainesville pastor--whom Obama refused to identify by name, smartly denying the pastor the distinction of a presidential mention--now says he’s put the foolish idea on hold. Supposedly, this was because he is in talks to meet with the imam planning a Muslim center for southern Manhattan, a meeting the pastor seems to believe could result in the moving of the Islamic center to another location. Murky details of alleged discussions or meetings suggest that the pastor is simply trying to backpedal without losing face with his (tiny) congregation. But if the event is indeed canceled, it does help communicate a message internationally that the American way is to welcome people of all religions.

[Check out our editorial cartoons on the “ground zero mosque” controversy.]

“They are Americans. We don't differentiate between 'them' and 'us.' It's just us," Obama said.

Then there are the Israelis and the Palestinians, embarking on the latest of negotiations to bring longtime violence and strike to a peaceful end. There are "enormous hurdles." Obama said, but the talks are "a risk worth taking" to achieve peace. Bottom line, the president said, is that "the two parties need each other. That doesn't mean it's going to work. Ultimately it's going to be up to them."

Oh, that the president, or any of us, could be so hopeful about Democrats and Republicans, who are so focused on keeping their own jobs in November’s elections that they can’t agree on how to create new ones for their constituents.

[Read more about unemployment.]

Republicans don’t want to discontinue tax cuts for the wealthiest, arguing that they hurt small business owners. The standoff means that extending tax cuts for the middle class is also in jeopardy--tough for middle-income voters, but political fodder for both parties: Democrats can (and likely will) blame the Republicans for holding the middle class hostage to protect the rich, while the GOP will benefit from playing the helpless minority in a Congress that has failed to extend tax cuts to middle-income voters.

Meanwhile, Obama’s nominations to judicial and other offices are being held up by Senate Republicans for reasons unrelated to the nominations themselves, making harder for Obama to implement his agenda (which may be the point).

Democrats did, this week, score a small victory, getting a single Republican senator to agree to stop a longtime GOP filibuster of a small business investment tax break. It was just one senator, Ohio Republican George Voinovich, and he’s retiring this year--hardly an encouraging sign for bipartisanship going forward.

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