On this anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Barack Obama tried to persuade Americans to be tolerant of Islam while reiterating the need to pursue the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, an Islamic country. Two months before legislative elections, in a highly polarized environment, the dual message of Obama's call for tolerance and the war increases the perception that he is a president who lacks determination.
The Republican opposition has fed this idea from the first day of his presidency. And now there are critics from his own party who claim he has not fulfilled his promises. Remember that the prison at Guantanamo continues to operate, despite his saying he would close it, and that, although he has begun to withdraw from Iraq, he has increased the number of troops deployed in Afghanistan.
The distinction Obama makes between a "preventive war," like the war in Iraq, and “a war of necessity," like the war in Afghanistan, fails to convince the more progressive wing of his party. Moreover, it also fails to sit well when, after saying he supports the right of Muslims to build a mosque near ground zero, Obama said he did not mean that the temple should actually be built there.
No doubt Obama's rhetoric is subtle, but Republicans and members of the tea party use it against him. When Bush said that there is a difference between Islam and terrorism, conservatives calmed down. Now, when Obama says the same thing, the far right reinforces the idea that the first African-American president is not a Christian but a Muslim not born in the U.S. who usurped power.
Obama’s problems of image and message are set against the backdrop of economic crisis. It would have been difficult for Republicans to distort his speeches as they do if the recovery weren’t dragging on. In this context, it appears that unless a miracle occurs, Obama cannot prevent the present majority from being crushed in the elections. The question is by how much.