In an interview late Wednesday, former DNC Chair Howard Dean reiterated his belief that the controversial "Ground Zero" mosque should be re-located, arguing that critics of his position were "guilty of" the same type of absolutism on the issue that they've accused Republicans of harboring.
The former Governor of Vermont told the Huffington Post that he "stood by" the remarks he had made earlier in the day on WABC radio in which he called the mosque plan "a real affront to people who lost their lives [on 9/11]." But in a clarification of sorts, he stressed that he would not have a problem if the proposed Islamic cultural center ultimately ended up being built in the current location.
"It won't upset me," Dean said, "except I think it is a missed opportunity to show some flexibility... I don't believe all this nonsense the right wing is putting out about radicals and all that stuff. I take the congregation at its word that it is a moderate congregation trying to heal the wounds of 9/11. But the best way to heal the wounds is not to have a court battle, but to sit down and try to work things out."
As Dean explained, the purpose of the Ground Zero mosque -- which is, in essence, to promote cross-cultural reconciliation -- became irrevocably compromised once the controversy began bubbling around the project. This is no fault of the planners behind the Cordoba House, Dean acknowledged. Nor was there any debate that the constitution was on their side. But that didn't nullify the argument that they would be better served to sit down with city and state officials to find an alternate site less objectionable the critics.
"They don't have to move," Dean said. "But the fact of the matter is, for better or worse, since 9/11 this country has been badly divided -- particularly by right wing politicians exploiting those divisions -- and this is an opportunity to bring the country together."
Dean's sentiments put him in, what surely seems like, rare political standing. The former DNC chair is not the first Democrat to oppose the current location for the Cordoba House. But he is the first critic to hail from the progressive community that, by and large, has viewed the debate over the mosque as a litmus test of sorts for a politician's commitment to constitutional rights and religious tolerance. Indeed, when Dean's viewpoints were broadcast, it was met with a mix of horror and anger from, what usually are, his chief defenders.
"I've seen a lot of the comments about this and a lot of it is silly that I'm agreeing with Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich," Dean said in response to the criticism. "That's just silly. I don't believe in race baiting..."
"The battle lines have been drawn so firmly on every issue that when the right says 'X' the left has to take the opposite position," he added. "This seems like one issue where if you have a congregation that wants to make things work and want to bring America back together again then why don't you do that."