Over the past few weeks the GOP's elected leadership--and many of its likely 2012 presidential candidates--have not hesitated to run full steam into the debate over whether a proposed Islamic center that includes a mosque should be built two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
Their arguments have ranged from respect for the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks to defending the honor of those who perished there to Rep. Peter King's (R-NY) outright declaration that "there are too many mosques in this country."
What these leading Republicans are not talking (or tweeting...Sarah Palin) about is that twenty-one days ago 155 Republican members of the House of Representatives voted to defeat H.R.847 -- the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (Zadroga was a New York City Police Department officer who died of a respiratory disease believed to be linked to his efforts in the rescue/recovery operations at Ground Zero. He was the first NYPD officer whose death was attributed to exposure to toxic chemicals at the attack site).
The purpose of the Zadroga Bill was to provide long-term medical monitoring and treatment benefits to the emergency personnel and recovery workers who responded to the World Trade Center terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Among many other important things, it would also provide for the initial health evaluation, monitoring, and treatment benefits to residents, building occupants and other area workers who were directly impacted by the attacks.
So just to make it clear, the GOP has now staked a claim as the defenders of the sanctity of the Ground Zero site, but they have simultaneously VOTED to deny the necessary long-term healthcare and compensation for the rescue workers and first responders who struggled in the ruins of Ground Zero.
I was having trouble thinking of a word to describe people like this, and then I remembered.....HYPOCRITES.
Here's what Republican Leader John Boehner had to say about the proposed mosque:
"The decision to build this mosque so close to Ground Zero is deeply troubling, as is the president's decision to endorse it. The American people certainly don't support it. The fact that someone has the right to do something doesn't necessarily make it the right thing to do. That is the essence of tolerance, peace and understanding. This is not an issue of law, whether religious freedom or local zoning. This is a basic issue of respect for a tragic moment in our history. We can never forget that terrible day, and the heroes who lost their lives - often in the hope that others might live. We honor their memory and their sacrifice, always."
Except I guess Congressman Boehner gets to pick and choose which part of September 11th he "honors." As you might expect, he voted "NO" on the Zadroga Health and Compensation Bill.
The House GOP's number two -- Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican whip -- had this to say about the proposed mosque:
"The World Trade Centers were brought down by Islamic extremists -- radicals who were bent on killing Americans and accomplished that in unimaginable ways. I think it is the height of insensitivity, and unreasonableness to allow for the construction of a mosque on the site of the World Trade Center bombings. I mean, come on."
Rep. Cantor voted "NO" on the Zadroga Health and Compensation Bill. I mean, come on!
Shall I go on? Why not...
The House GOP's number three -- Rep. Mike Pence, the Chair of the Republican Conference -- weighed into the debate by stating that "it is not appropriate to construct a mosque celebrating Islamic culture in the shadow of the Twin Towers."
Apparently he found it appropriate to vote "NO" on the Zadroga Bill, because that is exactly what he did, along with 154 other Republican members of the House (by contrast 12 Republicans voted for the bill along with 243 Democrats; because of a House procedural rule a 2/3's majority was required for passage).
For purposes of my own sanity I am not even going to address former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's statement on Fox News equating Muslims to "Nazis." That remark is so crazy that it's not worth my time or yours. Besides, he did not even bother to make a statement on the Zadroga Bill. Guess he was too busy.
I understand the raw emotions surrounding the debate over the proposed Islamic cultural center, especially for New Yorkers (of which I am one). I live and work in Manhattan, and was born in the City. I pass by Ground Zero on a regular basis. I knew members of my community and my high school who died in the September 11th attacks. As a veteran of the US military I even went to war in 2004 to fight back against those who attacked us (or so it was claimed in Iraq anyway).
But what I do not understand, and will not accept, are politicians who want us to sit idly by why they insult the heroes of 9/11 one minute -- by denying them necessary health care and monitoring -- then wrap themselves in the flag the next in a rush to start a culture war and score cheap political points.
The GOP should simply be ashamed. These "defenders" of Ground Zero are nothing but hypocrites, doubly insulting the honor and memory of those who died--and those who dug -- on that tragic September morning.
Follow Rob Diamond on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ridiamond