Granted, the “conservative spot” on the Gray Lady’s op-ed pages comes with plenty of caveats and handcuffs. So if a conservative columnist is going to last more than a year, he will have to suppress his harshest impulses toward the left and a great deal of his critical faculties. The result is likely to be condescending columns like today’s by Ross Douthat.
He posits two Americas: “The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes.” The first cares about the Constitution, and the second is composed of a bunch of racist rubes, it seems. “The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.” Yes, you can guess which are the opponents of the Ground Zero mosque. (I was wondering if he was going to write, “The first America helped little old ladies across the street; the second America drowned puppies.)
I assume that this is what one has to do to keep your piece of turf next to such intellectual luminaries as Maureen Dowd, but it’s really the worst straw man sort of argument since, well, the last time Obama spoke. But he’s not done: “The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.” OK, on behalf of the rubes in Second America, enough!
Second America — that’s 68% of us — recognizes (and we’ve said it over and over again) that there may be little we can do legally (other than exercise eminent domain) to halt the Ground Zero mosque, but that doesn’t suspend our powers of judgment and moral persuasion. Those who oppose the mosque are not bigots or constitutional ruffians. They merely believe that our president shouldn’t be cheerleading the desecration of “hallowed ground” (“first America’s” term, articulated by Obama) or averting our eyes from the funding sources of the imam’s planned fortress.
Well, maybe all this was the price to be paid at the left’s altar for Douthat’s final two graphs — the ultimate buried lede. After acknowledging that second America has a point (“the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith”), he admits:
By global standards, Rauf may be the model of a “moderate Muslim.” But global standards and American standards are different. For Muslim Americans to integrate fully into our national life, they’ll need leaders who don’t describe America as “an accessory to the crime” of 9/11 (as Rauf did shortly after the 2001 attacks), or duck questions about whether groups like Hamas count as terrorist organizations (as Rauf did in a radio interview in June). And they’ll need leaders whose antennas are sensitive enough to recognize that the quest for inter-religious dialogue is ill served by throwing up a high-profile mosque two blocks from the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam.
They’ll need leaders, in other words, who understand that while the ideals of the first America protect the e pluribus, it’s the demands the second America makes of new arrivals that help create the unum.
OK, it’s something, at any rate. Think of it as a little consciousness-raising for the Upper West Side, a reminder that the object of their affection isn’t the best role model to promote religious reconciliation. No, it doesn’t excuse the rest of an obnoxious, fractured history of American history. (Which America is it that hired the infamous Israel Lobby authors to spout thinly disguised anti-Semitism from its Ivy-covered buildings? Which America does Reverend Wright belong to? Which America routinely ridicules Christian evangelicals?) But it does tell you what passes for “conservative” at the New York Times.