Cafeteria Americans

The mosque malarkey; constitutional showdown in Cranston
By PHILLIPE AND JORGE  |  August 18, 2010

Congratulations to the national Republican Party. Dismissive of the Constitution and thoroughly addicted to whipping up fear and ignorance, they've now managed to get a rise out of the "booboisie" — H.L. Mencken's term for the clueless public — with their demagoguery on the New York "mosque" non-controversy. President Obama, rather than "backtracking" or whatever else they're trying to label it, was right twice about this.

First — and most importantly — Obama briefly spoke to the First Amendment. One would think that the language would be clear to these self-styled super-patriots: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." What part of "prohibiting the free exercise thereof" don't these Americans understand?

The following day, the President implied that perhaps establishing an Islamic center in the neighborhood of Ground Zero is not such a great idea. So where's the disconnect? First and foremost, Obama reminds us of the first sentence of the First Amendment, one of the essential cornerstones of American political thought. And then he suggests that building the center might not be the wisest thing to do. All sorts of thoughtless and/or tasteless things are completely legal . . . and we're not just talking about American Idol here. Barack Obama had it exactly right.

But that won't stop the Newt Gingriches of the world from grasping for a comparison so that he can invoke the word "Nazi" again. Psychological warfare master that he is, Gingrich knows that if he keeps repeating the words "Nazi" and "Obama" in close proximity over and over again the connection will sink in with many of the legions of fearful or clueless who are also registered to vote. Come to think of it, this sounds like a technique that was successfully utilized by Lonesome Joe Goebbels who was, coincidentally, a Nazi.

Obviously the right-wingers who are trying to make political hay and their Democratic brethren — scaredy cats lacking the cojones to stand up for the First Amendment — don't have much faith in the genius of America. Are our esteemed "public servants" becoming "cafeteria Americans," like those "cafeteria Catholics" we've heard so much about? "Oh yes, we like that Amendment where we all get to parade around with all sorts of guns and hunt squirrels with semi-automatic machine guns but who needs that one about freedom of religion — or the one where anyone born on American soil is a citizen."

Even though the 2nd Amendment has that pesky reference to "a well regulated militia" (the first words of the 2nd Amendment, in fact) and hence, for a couple of centuries was a puzzlement to many constitutional scholars, the Kres-kin crowd on the current court (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas, Alioto, et al) has somehow divined the true intentions of the Founders and established that we can all strut around strapped and loaded.

More of a problem is that 14th Amendment which engages in mighty straightforward language: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." So what if it's stood for 142 years? We weren't crawling with "Mohammedans" back then. And, while we're at it, that 8th Amendment banning "cruel and unusual punishment" sounds like something a "progressive" might have come up with.

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