Which brings us to President Obama (who himself could have quietly intervened months ago) and what may be his most embarrassing blunder yet. At a White House dinner with Muslim leaders Friday night, Obama offered what every major journalistic outfit in the country took to be unqualified support for building the mosque. Indeed, Obama aides preened over his moral courage, telling the New York Times that there was no doubt which side he would take.
"He felt he had a responsibility to speak," said David Axelrod, as if he was drafting the inscription on Obama's Profiles in Courage Award. But by Saturday morning, Obama tried to weasel out of it with the sort of lawyerly parsing everybody despises. Speaking to reporters in Florida, Obama claimed he had no position on the "wisdom" of the project, and anyone who mistook his academic comments about building a mosque in Lower Manhattan for an endorsement misunderstood him.
Well, if his real intent was to remain agnostic, he should fire his speechwriter immediately.
But of course that wasn't his intent. He wanted to seem heroically principled. But when he was hit with an entirely foreseeable backlash (according to one poll, nearly 70 percent of Americans oppose the mosque), he once again led with his glass jaw and, in effect, told everybody they were too dimwitted to grasp the brilliant nuance of his remarks.
This was the opposite of statesmanship. By elevating an already stupid idea and a poisonous debate, he forced everyone to take a side on a polarizing issue (including vulnerable Democrats like Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who, late Monday, came out against the mosque), while undermining his own credibility, not to mention America's reputation around the world.
And it all could have been avoided with some foresight and a few phone calls.