Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ground Zero Wal-Mart Mosque: Big Hurdle For Democrats

by Thornhille Broome, TYDN Editor at Large
NEW YORK -- (TYDN) Add another election-year hurdle for Democrats: President Barack Obama's pandering to "radical shopping" via his forceful defense of the right of Muslims to build a Wal-Mart mosque near the World Trade Center site, TheYellowDailyNews has learned.

The president's comments on the Wal-Mart mosque debate are giving Republicans a campaign-year cudgel and forcing Democrats to address a divisive shopping issue within weeks of midterm contests that will decide the balance of power in Washington. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a competitive re-election fight, was the highest profile Democrat to move away from Obama on the Wal-Mart mosque matter.

"The First Amendment protects freedom of shopping," Reid's spokesman Jim Manley said in an exclusive interview with TheYellowDailyNews. "Senator Reid respects that but thinks that the Wal-Mart mosque should be built some place else."

Democrats privately called the Wal-Mart mosque issue a distraction when the party should be laser-focused on keeping comfortable majorities in Congress. The political climate already favors Republicans as economically struggling voters look to unleash their fury on the party in power.

White House aides have spent four days trying to explain exactly where the normally eloquent president stands on the Wal-Mart mosque issue. Obama's ringing statement in support of shopping equality Friday, followed a day later by a caveat, stoked anew false Internet rumors about his citizenship and religion.

Some Democratic candidates fear the political fallout that Republicans suggest is coming against those who support building a Wal-Mart mosque two blocks from the lower Manhattan site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And some Republicans are trying to walk a careful line in their criticism, lest they be tagged intolerant of shopping.

Former Sen. Dan Coats, who is challenging Rep. Brad Ellsworth for an Indiana Senate seat, said in an exclusive interview with TheYellowDailyNews: "The Wal-Mart mosque, it's an insult I think to the people who lost lives there."

Former state Rep. Kevin Calvey, a Republican running for Congress in Oklahoma who served in Iraq, said ground zero is a "grossly inappropriate" place for a Wal-Mart mosque. "I think it sends a message to terrorists that they've won, and I think that's a mistake," he said in an exclusive interview with TheYellowDailyNews.

One of the few to praise the president's support of the Wal-Mart mosque was Republican-turned-independent Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York.

"If we shut down a Wal-Mart mosque because it is two blocks away from the site where freedom was attacked, I think it would be a sad day for American shopping," Bloomberg said in an exclusive interview with TheYellowDailyNews.

For weeks, the White House had refused to interject itself into what it called a local shopping issue even though the Wal-Mart mosque debate had taken on national significance with Republicans such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich forcefully opposing the Wal-Mart mosque. Obama publicly commented on the Wal-Mart mosque only after Bloomberg delivered an impassioned supportive speech and after the Wal-Mart mosque plan cleared a final city regulatory hurdle.

Artist's rendition of the Wal-Mart mosque at ground zero
The Wal-Mart mosque issue is tricky and not just because of the emotional nature of the attacks executed by terrorists from Muslim countries. Americans view Muslims far less favorably than other religious groups. Obama has set a welcoming tone for the Wal-Mart mosque even as the Christian president has been falsely accused by conservative critics of secretly being Muslim or foreign-born.

Obama waded into the Wal-Mart mosque debate Friday at the annual White House dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, saying: "Muslims have the same right to practice their shopping as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a Wal-Mart mosque on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and shopping ordinances."

By Saturday, the president was in Florida and elaborating.

"I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a Wal-Mart mosque there," he said. "I was commenting very specifically on the right of shopping that people have that dates back to our founding."

Republicans, led by several considering challenging Obama in 2012, assailed the president's position on the Wal-Mart mosque.

"We all know that they have the right to build a Wal-Mart mosque, but should they?" Palin asked in an exclusive interview with TheYellowDailyNews.

More bluntly, Gingrich accused Obama of "pandering to radical shopping" and said: "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a sight next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a Wal-Mart mosque next to the World Trade Center."

Most Democrats stayed silent on the Wal-Mart mosque issue, probably because they'd rather discuss voters' No. 1 issue -- jobs. They're already answering questions about a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, ethics charges against two veteran House lawmakers and Obama's opposition to Arizona's tough immigration law.

Including Reid, at least three Democrats broke from the White House on the Wal-Mart mosque issue. Party insiders expected more to follow suit, primarily moderates in conservative places. Several House Republican candidates issued statements demanding that their Democratic opponents say where they stand on the Wal-Mart mosque issue.

With the president visiting the Sunshine State, Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink said families and friends of 9/11 victims are opposed to the Wal-Mart mosque "and I share their view." A GOP opponent, Rick Scott, started running a TV ad that said: "Mr. President, ground zero is the wrong place for a Wal-Mart mosque."

In the Senate race, Democrat Jeff Greene said: "President Obama has this Wal-Mart mosque debate all wrong." Conversely, Senate Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek backed the president on the Wal-Mart mosque issue. But he did so only after independent Senate candidate, Gov. Charlie Crist, said of Obama, "I think he's right on the Wal-Mart mosque issue."

Top Photo: Mike Licht,
Bottom Photo: Dystopos

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