Politics and Thieves: Chris Christie Spikes the Muslim Political Football

Chris Christie is back from vacation, rested and ready to kick some ass.

At a press conference earlier this week, state senate President Steve Sweeney welcomed back the New Jersey governor and said, “You look great.”

“Bad news for you guys,” Chris quipped.

Aw, it’s funny because it’s true. Because Governor Christie isn’t just making state legislators look bad, he’s making politicians everywhere look like chumps. He did so by taking an admirable position on the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” which the AP thinks is an odd moniker since it’s a Muslim community center and not actually at the World Trade Center.

At the press conference, Christie dubbed the issue a “political football” and faulted President Obama for picking it up.

(This eschewed the fact that Republicans were the first ones on the field and compelled the President to join the game. Salon charted how a small-time, right wing blogger stoked the anger to a national level. Astonishingly, before these very same Muslims were plotting to enslave Manhattan with Shariah law, they were sitting on the couch at Fox and Friends.)

Here’s what Christie said: “[W]e have to acknowledge, respect and give some measure of deference to the feelings of the family members who lost their loved ones there that day. But it would be wrong to so overreact to that, that we paint Islam with a brush of radical Muslim extremists that just want to kill Americans because we are Americans.”

That was the extent of his comments on what should be done in New York, because by getting into it further, “I would be guilty of candidly, what I think some Republicans are guilty of, and the president is now, the president is guilty of—of playing politics with this issue, and I simply am not going to do it.”

So basically what he said is: It’s a local issue. Freedom of religion, sensitivity to the terrorist attacks—you’re not making me pick a side.

Supporters of the mosque’s rights were more than happy to hear this—they’ll take whatever they can get. The Council on American-Islamic Relations sent a mass e-mail to its members urging them to thank the Governor.

Others were not so happy.

Hot Air’s Allahpundit compared the reaction to President Obama’s: “like O, he’s voting present” Though it’s worth noting that Obama did make a judgment on the freedom of religion; Christie’s punting of the “political football” was more absolute. It’s the kind of holier-than-thou moment that has bestselling Republican author Mark Levin claiming he’s “not necessarily presidential material.”

Conversely, Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic liked the cut of Christie’s jib against demonizing Muslims: “No one, except for Chris Christie is openly worried about anti-Muslim prejudice being openly practiced, sanctioned, and endorsed by people running for, and in, high office. Tonally, this one guy seems to get this issue just right.” Ooh—even Britain’s unabashedly liberal paper The Guardian took note of his words of warning.

So what did Christie do with this “political football?” Did he punt it? Spike it?

I happen to believe he batted it down—stopping a gain in a play where only Republicans seem to be getting any yardage. Christie seems to understand that American democracy is a game where there really are no end zones, just greater distances from the 50 yard line. And gone unchecked, we’ll see people move the ball further and further afield.

If you recall last August, after the town hall hysterics over health care reform’s “death panels,” a White House advisor named Van Jones became a source of great interest on the right. Jones was a 40 year-old civil rights and environmental activist, a guy whose ideas about “green jobs” were lauded by the likes of Meg Whitman, likely the next Republican governor of California. In the spring of 2009, Jones joined the Obama administration to coordinate on such projects. Then in August, Glenn Beck aimed all the forces of right wing anger directly at him.

Claims emerged that Jones blamed the Bush administration for 9/11. A video showed him calling Republicans “assholes.” The stain of radicalism was applied so thoroughly and so quickly that he was unable to defend himself, despite how nefarious and faulted the brush that did it to him was. He resigned in early September.

At that point, everybody sort of looked around and wondered: Who’s next? Who’s the next Van Jones?

Returning to the present day, some of the savviest New York political observers believe this Muslim community center will never be built because the organizers were too impolitic in their launch, too imbecilic in their handling of the uproar, and now too incapable of getting any real support.

So consider that the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ is dead. Who’s next?

Well, there are some rumblings about a high school football team in Dearborn, Michigan that moved to all-night practices to coincide with their Muslim players’ fasts for Ramadan. An uncontroversial decision among the teammates, but Glenn Beck mentioned them on his radio show this week as a sign that America is slipping away from Christianity and moving toward Shariah law.

These are the kinds of political footballs Americans need to stop tossing. Governor Christie gets that.