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Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Atlantic Monthly Edition)

Clive Crook accuses Obama of a:

...muddled message exposed him to attack from both sides... incompetent politics...

What Clive Crook says would have been competent politics--what he says Obama should have said about the mosque of lower Manhattan:

What Obama Should Have Said: The Constitution's protection of religious freedom is central to this country's meaning and purpose. Yet many Americans are uneasy about this project. I understand and respect their feelings. The Ground Zero site is hallowed ground, and calls for special sensitivity. Critics of the decision to build are within their rights to express their objections, and to call for it to be reversed. As this discussion proceeds, I implore both sides to show understanding and tolerance, because the way we talk this through matters more than the eventual outcome. I urge the project's advocates to reflect sympathetically on the sensitivities aroused by this unique site. And I urge opponents of the centre to consider the message we could send to our enemies by welcoming this building to a site near Ground Zero: Unlike you, we embrace religious freedom; we celebrate Muslim Americans as fellow citizens; Islam is not our enemy. The president's opinion on this difficult matter has no special standing, and I am not seeking to bring the debate to an end, but I will tell you what I think. I hope that critics will think about the opportunity we have in this project to advance our ideals and demonstrate them to the world, that the objections are withdrawn, and that the project can go ahead...

What Obama actually said:

President Obama’s Iftar Remarks: [W]e must all recognize and respect the sensitivities surrounding the development of Lower Manhattan.  The 9/11 attacks were a deeply traumatic event for our country.  And the pain and the experience of suffering by those who lost loved ones is just unimaginable.  So I understand the emotions that this issue engenders.  And Ground Zero is, indeed, hallowed ground.

But let me be clear.  As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.  This is America.  And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.  The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are.  The writ of the Founders must endure....

Our enemies respect no religious freedom.  Al Qaeda’s cause is not Islam — it’s a gross distortion of Islam.  These are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists who murder innocent men and women and children.  In fact, al Qaeda has killed more Muslims than people of any other religion....

[T]he reason that we will win this fight is not simply the strength of our arms — it is the strength of our values.  The democracy that we uphold. The freedoms that we cherish.  The laws that we apply without regard to race, or religion, or wealth, or status.  Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us –- and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today.

In my inaugural address I said that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and non-believers.  We are shaped by every language and every culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.  And that diversity can bring difficult debates.  This is not unique to our time.  Past eras have seen controversies about the construction of synagogues or Catholic churches.  But time and again, the American people have demonstrated that we can work through these issues, and stay true to our core values, and emerge stronger for it.  So it must be — and will be — today...

See any difference that makes the first competent politics and an unmuddled message, and the second incompetent politics and a muddled message?

I don't.

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