According to Talking Points Memo, the following Democrats have come out publicly in favor of building the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan:
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), candidate for Senate
Alexi Giannoulias (D-IL), candidate for Senate
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN)
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI)
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY)
Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN)
Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY)
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) Ground Zero is in his district.
Honorable mention: Ron Paul (R-TX) and Charlie Crist (I-FL)
To be fair, I doubt that the list is conclusive. Certainly other Democrats not only support the right of the Islamic center to be built but are also appalled by the ugly opposition to it. Hopefully, we will hear from them soon. The sooner the better.
At the same time, I do not expect most Democrats (and certainly not Republicans) to speak out against the apparently very popular hatred of Muslims.
There is no need for me to explain the controversy to anyone who is reading this. It is pretty clear what this whole issue is about - hate, exploiting hate, and the fear of standing up to the haters.
Some issues have two sides. Not this one, as Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen states in his piece today:
This is not a complicated matter. If you believe that an entire religion of upward of a billion followers attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, then it is understandable that locating a mosque near the fallen World Trade Center might be upsetting. But the facts are otherwise. Islam was not in on the attack -- just a sliver of believers. That being the case, those people with legitimate hurt feelings are mistaken. They need our understanding, not our indulgence.
If, on the other hand, you do not believe that the attack was launched by an entire religion, you have a moral duty to support the creation of the Islamic center. Lots of people fall into this category -- or say they do -- and still protest the mosque. They include Newt Gingrich, New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio and that Twittering Twit of the Tundra, Sarah Palin. They indulge in a kind of pornography of analogy -- a bit of demagogic buffoonery that is becoming more and more obvious. They pretend that they have a solemn obligation to defend the (powerful) majority from the demands of the (powerless) minority and champion people whose emotions are based on a misreading of the facts.
Like Cohen, Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Jewish representative from Nevada, also puts the controversy in stark, simple and painfully true terms.
For the record, Berkley is probably the most hawkish member of Congress, in either party, on the subject of Israel. I almost never agree with her, but I have never doubted her sincerity. Unlike so many of her colleagues, Berkley believes what she says about the Middle East and, in my opinion, is influenced neither by lobbies nor donors. Her opinions are what they are but she comes by them honestly.
Here is what she says about the controversy:
Given the fact that my family and people in my religion have suffered so much from religious persecution, I cannot see how I can speak out against other minority religions in this country and their free exercise of their own religion. [...]
Do I feel sensitivity for those families that suffered horrible losses and unspeakable crimes (in the Sept. 11 attack)? Of course ... Is this the best location on the planet for this mosque? Probably not. But doesn't the Constitution permit the free exercise of religious beliefs? How many synagogues have been burned to the ground with Jews in them because of religious intolerance?
That pretty much says it all, except for this. It is not just synagogues which were burned down, as they were by the thousands in Europe. Here in the United States, African American, Roman Catholic, and Mormon churches have all been torched by the haters. And probably others too.
I commend Berkley for likening the opposition to the Islamic center to its true historical antecedents. She, and those few colleagues who have also spoken out, understand what this horror show of hate is about and where it can lead.
Meanwhile, the (once) great party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt ignites the fire of hate and keeps pouring gasoline on it. And the party of FDR and JFK says pretty much nothing.
And we wonder why so many people think politics is a waste of time.