David Axelrod and Elie Wiesel had a conversation at the 92nd Street Y. Axelrod, and presumably his boss, are disappointed with us — still — for our lack of moral sophistication. On the reaction to the Ground Zero mosque:
“It goes to the soul of our country — that sourness is something that is understandable in these kind of times,” said Axelrod, who arrived in Washington with Obama’s promise of a new tone in public life. “I think one of our great missions is to regenerate that sense of possibility that has always characterized the spirit of our country …
“We’ve seen in our history and the histories of other country — sometimes in tragic ways — what happens when there is a sense of economic distress and how it divides people.”
But had Axelrod come merely to grouse? Or was there an escape plan in the works for the Ground Zero debacle, which has left the president politically isolated even within his own party?
Wiesel, 82, said his solution would be to affirm to Imam Faisal Rauf that “I know your intentions are good” but that his plan would “hurt some people who have suffered.”
“Let’s turn it around — let’s do it together. Jews, Christians, and Muslims together will create this place, a center for interfaith, but sponsored together, financed together, worked out programs tighter, and show a symbol of solidarity, of religious solidarity,” Wiesel said. “It can become a very great symbol here — a great monument for humanity.”
“That sounds like a wonderful idea,” Axelrod replied, later calling it “a great idea” and one that “gives me hope.”
Umm, if it’s such a wonderful idea — and some would say one of the many obvious alternatives to a Muslim monument on the ashes of 3,000 innocents killed in the name of Islam — why didn’t the president and his crack team suggest it earlier? Why did the president refuse to engage in concerns about propriety and restraint, insisting, rather, that this was all about Muslims’ religious rights and the prejudices of the rest of us?
Now maybe Axelrod was freelancing here. But I doubt it. He is, as we’ve been told, one of the president’s inner circle of advisers, indeed one of those who egged on the president to support the Ground Zero mosque. It is, I think, a rather embarrassing retreat — some would say craven — for the administration to hide behind Elie Wiesel to resolve a political mess of its own making.
But if Axelrod is serious, shouldn’t the president follow up with a call for Rauf, asking him to rethink the essence of the project? It would, of course, be altogether fitting and indeed necessary to rename it as well. Why not the Elie Wiesel Center for Religious Tolerance? I await the enthusiastic endorsement of CAIR.