Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison did a terrific job of explaining Monday why Democrats ought not fear the sad little debate about whether to allow a moderate Muslim group to build an Islamic Center near the site of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Asked on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" whether President Obama's support of a New York group's right to develop the Islamic Center would hurt Democrats running in this fall's volatile election cycle, the Minneapolis Democrat who was the first Muslim elected to Congress answered: "Absolutely not."
"The truth is that we're a party of principle," Ellison continued. "We believe in the idea of religious liberty."
In fact, despite Republiacn harping on the issue, Ellison argued that Democrats can and should position themselves as the party that respects the whole Constitution -- including the part about "freedom of religion."
"There's also a more important principle at work here: And that is that the transnational terrorists who committed this outrageous act on 9/11, they are arguing that America is at war with Islam," explained the Minnesota Democrat, who has at the behest of the Bush and Obama administrations taken to the international stage to champion the U.S. commitment of the United States to religious diverity. "The way to undermine and counteract that false narrative is to stand on our sacredly held beliefs of religious liberty. That's how we demonstrate that, no, America is a country ... for everyone where people worship as they see fit. The problem with stopping this Islamic center is that it implies that the Muslim world is responsible for it, when it was al Qaeda that was responsible."
Ellison was offering Democrats exactly the counsel they need. Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wasn't listening. The embattled Nevada Democrat joined right-wing radio hosts, Republicans flamers and Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman in the chorus of oppositiuon to construction of the Islamic Center in southern Manhattan.
"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," read a statement from Reid's office. "Sen. Reid respects that but thinks that the mosque should be built someplace else."
Ellison's right. His Democratic Party is "a party of principle" -- and a party that has faith in the American people to reject the spin and embrace the Constitution.
Unfortunately, Harry Reid is a member of the other Democratic Party -- the one that never quite "gets it.".