Today, President Obama clarified his comments, emphasizing that he endorsed the rights of the mosque proponents and that he remained neutral regarding the wisdom of the project. This is an important distinction. Upholding the US Constitution is a duty of the President. Deciding local construction policy is not.
Now that President Obama has clarified his position, some media commentators are arguing that he is shifting or backtracking. Ben Smith of Politico offers the most egregious example of this in his blog post: Obama narrows mosque defense. Smith argues that:
The signal Obama sent with his rhetoric last night wasn't that he had chosen to make a trivial, legal point about the First Amendment. He chose to make headlines in support of the mosque project, and he won't be able to walk them back now with this sprinkling of doubt. All he'll do is frustrate some of the people who so eagerly welcomed his words yesterday as a return to form.Signal? Rather than using subliminal messaging to decode what Obama was saying, try looking at the transcript and judge for yourself.
Smith's description of the First Amendment as "trivial" is shocking. That same legal document allows him to blog on political issues -- even if incorrectly. The speech and religion clauses of the First Amendment are very important parts of US constitutional law. It is commendable that Obama embraced these concepts for a disparaged religious community.
Finally, the notion that one could embrace a person's right to do something -- without necessarily advising that person to do anything specific -- is not complicated. For example, many people are pro-choice, even though they say they would not have an abortion themselves. Some people are atheist, but they support religious freedom (including the freedom not to believe). One can believe in the First Amendment, but also believe that the news media is becoming a worthless part of American culture. Similarly, Obama can endorse the rights of the mosque proponents, while remaining aloof to the controversy about its location.
Anyone who reads Dissenting Justice knows that this blog is a fearless critic of Obama. This, however, is not a moment to criticize him.
UPDATE: The evolving commentary on this subject brings two issues to mind. First, many leftists are upset and believe that Obama is compromising or going back on his word. During the Democratic primaries, many progressives projected leftwing values onto Obama based on things he said that, if interpreted broadly, could mean he was a progressive. Apparently, many of them have not learned to construe his words narrowly (and even then, he sometimes falls short, like all politicians).
Second, this situation looks like the Shirley Sherrod matter. Although Obama's actual words are available for all to see, people are still misreporting them.
Also on Dissenting Justice:
Sarah Palin's Two-Faced Arguments Regarding "Ground Zero Mosque"
Media Misstates Obama's Position on Mosque; Obama Clarifies Stance