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New Republic’s Jonathan Chait on the Ground Zero Mosque, on the Prop. 8 decision, and chastising the Weekly Standard for having fun

Friday, August 13, 2010

HH: Joined now by the New Republic’s senior editor, Jon Chait. Jon, welcome, good to have you back again.

JC: Thanks, Hugh.

HH: Rich Rodriguez, are you inspired, are you confident about Michigan’s prospects for the upcoming Big 10 season?

JC: Yes, I am. We will revisit this as the season goes on, but yeah. No, I think the team will be all right.

HH: Because I just saw my ESPN magazine, and my Sports Illustrated. They’re not ranked very high.

JC: No, not ranked high.

HH: (laughing)

JC: (laughing) I think this squad’s going to do better, but we will see.

HH: All right, we’ll check back. Jon, let’s cover a few things you’ve written over at in your blog.

JC: Yeah.

HH: First, the Prop. 8 decision, you appear to be, from your most recent posting, comfortable with the idea that no judicial review necessary.

JC: You know, I’m morally comfortable with it. Legally, again, that’s way over my head, but you know, I linked to a guy making an argument that it won’t happen, so it seems like an interesting argument.

HH: Now you write that the fundamental issue with gay marriage is that opponents have never been able to adequately explain who is hurt by letting gays marry.

JC: Right.

HH: In this instance, is it fair to say that the people who sponsored and spent money and time on Prop. 8 following the laws of California, and the provisions of California Constitution, investing all that time and effort, win the vote, win the California Supreme Court case upholding the vote, that a single federal judge striking them down, manipulating the process as he does so by dismissing Imperial County, that they would not be injured by virtue of his ruling here?

JC: Well, I don’t know what you mean by manipulating the process. That’s not an accusation I’ve heard at all.

HH: Dismissal of Imperial County, it’s, among legal scholars, it’s been talked about quite a lot.

JC: Right, again, like if you’re talking about it as a legal issue, you know, this is not the thing I know. When I was quoting, I was quoting a legal expert who’s making an argument about, a legal argument about standing. What I’m making is a moral argument, and I would say there’s a parallel between the legal issue and the moral issue. The moral issue is no one is hurt by gay marriage, so that’s basically my commentary and my position.

HH: And I wasn’t going to join that debate. I was just going to ask you if you think people are hurt by following the law, spending all that time and money getting an initiative qualified, winning the campaigning, defending it before the California Supreme Court, are they injured by that process to then be told nah, never mind, by a single federal judge? Is that an injury not to the people who want to get married who are the same sex, but to people who use the political process in good faith?

JC: Is that an injury? You know, you’re saying not in a legal way but in a moral way.

HH: Yes.

JC: You know, maybe it is. You know, maybe you’re right about that.

HH: All right. It’s just something to think about, because I do think people are overlooking the fact there’s an awful lot of reliance on the laws of California that are being put in peril here by this judge’s suggestion there’s no review necessary. Now I want to talk about Ground Zero Mosque.

JC: Okay.

HH: Charles Krauthammer, you say, is at least open to the construction of mosques, outside of this mosque’s exclusion. And of course, he’s actually said mosques everywhere, just not here, hasn’t he?

JC: Yeah, right.

HH: So it’s overstatement a little bit for the purpose of your thing. But you also write Krauthammer’s approach…

JC: No, I think that’s what I think. He’s saying there should be a mosque exclusion zone of some undetermined size in Lower Manhattan. But it shouldn’t extend beyond that.

HH: But you wrote he is at least open to. In fact, he’s endorsed…

JC: Well, I wrote Krauthammer at least is open to the construction of mosques elsewhere.

HH: And that significantly understates his position, which is I think the classic liberal position of free exercise of religion outside of a few particular places.

JC: Right. He’s open to the construction of mosques elsewhere.

HH: Okay, I thought it was overstated. But you also write, Krauthammer’s approach…

JC: He’s not demanding them. He’s just saying he’s open to it. It’s fine.

HH: Krauthammer’s approach is to treat all Muslims as political terrorists. Do you think that’s overstatement?

JC: As potential terrorists.

HH: Yes.

JC: I think that is the proper interpretation of what he wrote. What he wrote was who’s to say that the mosque won’t one day hire an Anwar al-Awlaki, the spiritual mentor to the Fort Hood shooter, which is true. You know, he’s fixating on the potential that any mosque will one day bring in some kind of terrorist or the spiritual mentor to a terrorist, which is, you know, of course possible. But that’s not, I don’t think that’s a proper way to treat them.

HH: Is that accurately conveyed when you write that his approach is to treat all Muslims as potential terrorists?

JC: That’s exactly what he’s doing here, yes. He’s saying, he’s not, he’s saying there’s no, he’s saying without any particular reason to think that this mosque will harbor terrorists, he’s saying who’s to say that they won’t.

HH: No, he’s saying if they were to hire a known terrorist, that would be an objection. He’s not saying treat every Muslim as a potential terrorist, which is quite radically different, isn’t it, Jon?

JC: No, I think it is. What he says is who’s to say that the mosque won’t one day hire an Anwar al-Awlaki, the spiritual mentor of the…again, that, what he’s saying there is that they should be considered, essentially, potential terrorists.

HH: I don’t think so.

JC: But the fact that there’s no evidence that they are doesn’t mean that they won’t be.

HH: No, he named a specific, well-known terrorist who’s hiding out in Yemen, and is responsible for inciting mass violence against Americans. That’s very different from saying treat all Muslims as potential terrorists.

JC: He said that the mosque could hire, could bring someone like that on board, without any reason to believe that they would.

HH: Isn’t…are you at all concerned about attributing to someone a degree of anti-Muslim phobia that they don’t even remotely harbor, Jon?

JC: I would not do that.

HH: Okay, look at that sentence again. Were you a member of Journolist?

JC: Yeah.

HH: Were you reading Ackerman’s piece when he suggested people attack Fred Barnes as a racist?

JC: I don’t think so.

HH: You didn’t read that one?

JC: I probably, I don’t know. I mean, he, he tends to fly off the handle and write things. You know, it wouldn’t necessarily strike me, I wouldn’t necessarily remember it if he did.

HH: What about the morality of that proposal?

JC: Well, it’s insane.

HH: Insane, but is it immoral?

JC: Oh, yeah.

HH: Ought he to apologize for it?

JC: You know, I don’t know if you need to publicly apologize for saying some crazy thing in private. Haven’t you ever said something in private that you know, you don’t really mean, that you’re angry about somebody and say that guy should be shot, you know, blah, blah, blah? Have you ever said something like that?

HH: I don’t think so, but if I had and it became public, I would apologize to the person about whom I said it.

JC: Fair enough. No, the thing is, this is, you know, this is a guy who first of all, you don’t need to go on covering Journolist to find an example of Spencer Ackerman saying crazy things. I mean, just read his blog. People have been treating this as a revelation. That’s what he does.

HH: Well, anyone who read it with specificity, ought they to have written him back immediately, that’s insane, Spencer, you can’t do that, he’s an innocent man, you can’t charge him with a very serious moral thing like that?

JC: You know, honestly, if it was someone else, I think people would have done that. I think people just got used to the idea that he goes completely over the top so often that people just tune it out.

HH: All right, now I want to go back to Ground Zero Mosque. Are there any restrictions that you would accept in the area around Ground Zero as appropriate for protection of a sacred space?

JC: Probably. I mean, there’s nothing I’m thinking of off the top of my head, but I’m certainly open to those that are, yeah, that are, I think, done in a fair-minded spirit.

HH: So if they are neutrally applied, such that they would ban any use that attempted to exploit proximity to Ground Zero, would you be comfortable with that?

JC: I wouldn’t be comfortable with any such regulation, but I would be open to regulations that are such as the ones you’re describing, yes.

HH: You think they’d be Constitutional?

JC: Well, it would depend on the regulation.

HH: Well, let’s say that we do not want any house of worship of any sort – Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Muslim, Jewish…

JC: Right.

HH: …within a half mile of Ground Zero. Would that be, in your mind, acceptable?

JC: That’s a zoning restriction, right?

HH: Yes.

JC: I mean, we have zoning restrictions, so yeah.

HH: Okay, so when we come back, I’ll take a brief break here with Jonathan Chait from the New Republic. I’m going to ask him then what’s up with Mayor Bloomberg, who seemed to treat the idea that any kind of restriction there would be an assault on the Constitution.

– – – –

HH: Okay, Jon, so Mayor Bloomberg accused everyone of being basically bigots who opposed the Ground Zero Mosque. Do you think he overstated that?

JC: I don’t know exactly what he said. I mean, if he said that everyone who opposes it is a bigot, then that’s not true. That’s certainly, I don’t think people are, everyone who’s opposing this is doing so out of bigotry.

HH: All right.

JC: But I do think that’s the effect of it.

HH: And do you, would it matter if it was not Faisal Abdul Rauf, who is behind the Ground Zero Mosque, but a known extremist who advocated violence against the United States. Would that be grounds for preventing it from being built?

JC: Grounds for, did he say violence?

HH: No, grounds for preventing the mosque from being built if the proponent of the mosque was in fact a known and admitted terrorist sympathizer.

JC: Right. I think so. I think that would change, yeah, I mean, I think…well, let’s put it this way. If someone was actually trying to construct what the critics have described, which is a kind of victory mosque to celebrate al Qaeda’s triumph, then yes, I think there would be strong grounds for opposition.

HH: Now you see, Jon, that’s where I think the left runs into trouble on this, because that’s not a rule of reason that can be applied. Then, you’re looking at motive. You’re looking at identity, and you’re trusting, you’re going to search out people’s, you’re going to search out their motivations, which will involve the government in inspection of religious beliefs. That’s why…

JC: You’re right. Well, I’m not saying that they should, that they would necessarily have legal grounds. But I do think that would be a good reason to do what the opponents are doing, which is to try to appeal to moral suasion, and say do not build this.

HH: Could the government stop it, though, if it was a known terrorist, if it was, you know, the Blind Sheikh on parole or one of his followers who had attacked the World Trade Center?

JC: That’s the whole thing about known terrorists. If he’s a known terrorist, I think they could stop it by arresting him.

HH: But if a known sympathizer, could they stop a known sympathizer, though not a convicted terrorist?

JC: I’m not, I don’t know if I have the legal expertise to answer that question.

HH: What do you think the law should be in that instance?

JC: What do they say? Hard cases make for bad law, where you know, you devise a tricky hypothetical law that challenges your basic principles? I think that’s kind of what’s, what you’re up to here. Now I’m sure that’s probably what you spent all of law school doing, but you know, I’m not really sure what’s the gray spot in the law where you can try to come up with some neutral legal principle that doesn’t discriminate against Muslims against another religion while still having that in. I suspect you just probably wouldn’t be able to do anything.

HH: There’s a piece in the New Republic by Reuel Marc Gerecht. Have you had a chance to read it yet on Faisal Abdul Rauf?

JC: No, I’ve not. I saw it, but I haven’t gotten to it.

HH: Oh, when you get a chance to read it, we’ll come back to that. Now I want to finish up by talking with you about the state of intellectual conservatism. Are you objecting to the Weekly Standard’s having fun with the word refudiation?

JC: No, I’m poking fun at the whole intellectual tenor of first the editorial, and then the attempt to make money off of it.

HH: Do you think you can draw any conclusions about the intellectual standing of conservatism based upon a parody and a joke?

JC: I don’t think it’s a parody. I think it’s an actual campaign. What, for the listeners who don’t know what it is, so first Sarah Palin talked about refudiating liberalism, refudiating Obama. Then, Kristol wrote an editorial for the Standard heartily endorsing her call. And now, they’re running ads selling bumper stickers and T-shirts with the Refudiate Obama and Refudiate Socialism.

HH: Yes.

JC: So you know, I think the problem here is that, as though, is that their thinking can be reduced to a T-shirt and a bumper sticker, which is itself a problem. I mean, if you look at the history of neo-conservatism, it’s often credited with having an important role in the intellectual development of the right. And you had the Public Interest, which was this really great magazine for several years, back in the late 60s and early 70s, which was founded on this project of subjecting liberalism and government to empirical scrutiny to find out what works and what doesn’t, and having really rigorous, tough-minded intellectual standards, as opposed to simply, you know, wantonly starting government programs because the purpose sounded nice.

HH: Well, isn’t sometimes just a joke a joke, and a tongue-in-cheek T-shirt a tongue-in-cheek T-shirt?

JC: You know, I don’t know how tongue-in-cheek it is. I mean honestly, I think it’s just, it’s a magazine that has devolved, to a point. So Bill Kristol obviously is the son of Irving Kristol, who was one of those Public Interest editors, and it’s just kind of devolved to the point where you really can just boil everything they believe down to a bumper sticker, which I don’t think speaks well of them.

HH: So you really think the Refudiate Obama bumper sticker and T-shirt is an indictment of the intellectual project of the right?

JC: Yeah. You know, even the original Weekly Standard of 1995, which wasn’t the highest standards of any magazine, would probably have, I think certainly had people who…

HH: Okay, you’re consistent. You think Michigan’s going to bounce back as well.

JC: 8 wins.

HH: Jon Chait, always a pleasure from the New Republic.

End of interview.

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