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Right v. Rectitude

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The growing opposition to plans for a Muslim cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero have prompted some on the Left to speak out in defense of religious freedom in America. On August 16th, pundit Keith Olbermann took opponents of the project to task in his "Special Comment" segment:

"'They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.' Pastor Martin Niemoller's words are well known, but their context is not well understood. . . . [N]iemoller was not warning of the Holocaust. He was warning of the willingness of a seemingly rational society to condone the gradual stoking of enmity towards an ethnic or religious group, warning of the building-up of a collective pool of national fear and hate, warning of the moment in which the need to purge outstrips even the parameters of the original scape-goating, when new victims are needed because a country has begun to run on a horrible fuel of hatred ? magnified, amplified, multiplied, by politicians and zealots, within government and without.

Niemoller was not warning of the Holocaust. He was warning of the thousand steps before a holocaust became inevitable. If we are at just the first of those steps again ? today, here ? it is one step too close. . . . Despite the nobility of our founding and the indefatigable efforts of all our generations, there have always been those who would happily sacrifice our freedoms, our principles, to ward off the latest unprecedented threat, the latest unbeatable outsiders. Once again, at 45 Park Place, we are being told to sell our birth-right, to feed the maw of xenophobia and vengeance and mob rule. . . . And in America, when somebody comes for your neighbor, or his Bible, or his Torah, or his Atheists' Manifesto, or his Koran, you and I do what our fathers did, and our grandmothers did, and our founders did and you speak up."

In case he didn't make himself clear, Mr. Olbermann is horrified and ashamed by those opposed to the construction of what is now being called 45 Park Place. Notwithstanding his hyperbole, Olbermann makes one valid point: American citizens who wish to build a Muslim cultural center and mosque at Ground Zero are acting within their constitutional rights. What Mr. Olbermann fails to address in his diatribe is that, in the main, those who oppose the project concede this point. The argument in opposition is not that the promoters of 45 Park Place have no legal right to build at Ground Zero; it is that to do so would be unseemly, given that the terrorists who devastated the site were Muslims whose diabolical acts were motivated by the very faith they now wish to promote there.

In other words, whether or not to build at Ground Zero is not a matter of right so much as a matter of rectitude. Unlike Mr. Oblbermann, columnist Ross Douthat does an excellent job of articulating the tensions at play in this controversy in a recent op-ed entitled "Islam In Two Americas."

It is easier for demagogues like Olbermann to condemn the opponents of 45 Park Place as First Amendment-hating xenophobes than to recognize the legitimate "right v. rectitude" question at the heart of the controversy. What's ironic, however, is how quick the Left is to dispense with the Constitution when those invoking it happen to fall on the politically incorrect side of the ideological divide.

When news broke that Glenn Beck would be hosting a "Restoring Honor" rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that Sarah Palin was slated to speak and that the rally would take place on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have A Dream" speech, the cry of outrage from the Left was immediate. Keith Olbermann was so distressed by the news that he invited uber-liberal talk radio personality Bill Press to weigh in on the matter:

"Unbelievable isn't it? [When] I first heard about this – from you, by the way – you know I was just outraged that the park service would even consider giving Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin a permit to hold a political rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, that sacred shrine, on this historic date. . . . Clearly – I don't care what he says – he chose that site, on that day, to kind of supplant Dr. Martin Luther King's 'I Have A Dream' speech with his message, whatever it is."

So, not only is Mr. Press outraged by Beck's presumption and insensitivity, he openly suggests that the government should prevent him from doing so! In one fell swoop Mr. Press commits a constitutional double-whammy, assaulting not only Beck's right to speech but his right to assemble. And how did Olbermann respond? Did he "speak out" against this diatribe with solemn recitations of Holocaust poetry and a condemnation of Press's "stoking of enmity" against Beck and Palin? Why, of course not. Instead of defending Beck's constitutional rights, Olbermann chooses instead to focus on rectitude, even going so far to suggest that Beck rally will be a "racist desecration" of Dr. King's memory.

So, as far as the Left is concerned, when it comes to the Ground Zero mosque controversy, the principle of constitutional right rules the day, but when it comes to Glenn Beck, MLK and the Lincoln Memorial, rectitude is the driving factor. The only thing these seemingly disparate arguments have in common is that they flow not from a position of principle, but one of rhetorical expediency. In one case it suits Olbermann and his liberal brethren to invoke the hallowed liberties enshrined in our constitution, in the other it suits them to ignore them.

Perhaps Mr. Olbermann has embraced Ralph Waldo Emerson’s view that consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and he is only trying to show just how broadminded he really is. The truth is, however, the American people have had it up to their eyeballs with the moral incoherence of the Left. Enough with the rhetorical grandstanding, Mr. Olbermann! A little consistency if you please.

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