The mosque miscue

For President Obama, there is no vacation from vacillation.

By the time he got to the beach this weekend, the controversy over his Friday speech seemingly supporting the proposed mosque at the 9/11 site left him so rattled, he could hardly wait to put on his flip-flops.

Even the hastily arranged Gulf vacation itself was more of a placation, as in placating those who complained his family time off had not included the BP-besieged Gulf shores, making his ringing words of support ring hollow.

Soon after he arrived he hastened to hollow out his words from the evening before, at the White House dinner marking the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," he declared, "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."

Right away, the opposition's usual suspects were foaming at the mouth. That was hardly a surprise, considering their close attention to polls like CNN's, which showed a 68 percent nationwide disapproval of the religious center.

House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio): "This is not an issue of law, whether religious freedom or local zoning. This is a basic issue of respect for a tragic moment in our history."

And of course we heard from the REAL Republican leader, Sarah Palin. She, or one of her peeps, tweeted, "We all know that they have the right to do it, but should they.”

We also must not overlook the man who jealously WANTS to be the GOP leader, Newt Gingrich. He pounced too, by accusing Obama of "pandering to radical Islam.” Gingrich knows from pandering.

Once again, the president showed how adept he was at shifting to reverse without even stopping: "I was not commenting,” he insisted, "and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put the mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

Now that he had ignited two fires, suddenly the White House felt compelled to extinguish the new one with even more wishy-washy rhetoric. Spokesman Bill Burton trotted out to clarify the clarification: “Just to be clear, the president is not backing off in any way.”

Many of the president's already-worried fellow Democrats were cringing because when Obama embellishes, the opposition relishes. They now have still more material for the GOP arsenal of sound-bite bombs.

This was a gift to them, and not some inadvertent slip of the tongue. The Ramadan comments were prepared, refined and massaged by the president, his advisers and speechwriters and then read off the usual teleprompter. But as he traipsed about lauding the oil-free sands, the uproar threw some sand in his well-oiled image machine.

Not that this is anything new about Barack Obama. He takes great pride in his reputation for trying to achieve a meeting of the minds. Sadly, in today's incendiary environment, consensus is a con, and once again, the president is painfully discovering that when he tries to please everybody, he pleases nobody.


Visit Mr. Franken's website at www.bobfranken.tv.