We are all sick of the cowardice shown by Democratic leaders on the insane controversy regarding the Burlington Coat Factor Islamic cultural center. One shining exception is Al Franken, who has spoken very plainly and bluntly about the issue. We can also point to Sherrod Brown, who has deftly used political judo to turn it to his advantage.
Now, I've got a really terrific example of how our leaders should deal with this issue that trumps them all. This is my Representative, Tom Perriello, one of the best people in Congress, and a real profile in courage.
The 5th congressional district of Virginia is sprawling, covering liberal Charlottesville in the north and extending south through Liberty University and ending at the North Carolina border. Most of the district is hard-core right wing and Republican, but the north tilts the other way and in 2008 we were able -- by a razor-thin margin -- to win this district away from the republicans who had held it for many years. The 'tea party' types around here are rampant, active, and in a constant state of inchoate rage.
Tom just gave a town hall meeting in Danville, in the extreme south of the district. This is where tea-party types have proposed hanging Tom in effigy, and where a tea party leader posted what he thought was Tom's home address on the internet, encouraging supporters to harass his family (and one nut apparently tried to blow the house up). Tom has a policy of giving lots of town hall meetings and listening respectfully to everyone. There was a lot of right-wing hostility in the crowd. The first questioner opened by calling Tom "a liar and a hypocrite" and asked "Where in the Constitution do you ... get the right to take away our rights and spend this money this way?" The question brought forward thunderous applause.
In this environment, inevitably a question (two, actually) arose about the Burlington Coat Factory Islamic cultural center. Did Tom cave? Did he suggest that it would really be best if the Muslims went somewhere else? Here is what happened.
Perriello paused, choosing his words carefully. His Republican opponent, Robert Hurt, called on Perriello in a news release Monday to denounce the president’s support of the mosque.
"Let me start by saying, I cannot imagine wanting the government to be able to tell me and my faith community where we can build a house of worship on private property," Perriello said. "... I have opinions on whether it’s a good idea or not, but ... compared to the importance of solving the economy right now... this is a distraction of what our biggest priorities should be."
The crowd overwhelmingly applauded his answer.
A calm, common sense answer that shows that the whole controversy is a distraction and a political ploy. And he made it a win for himself -- in an incredibly hostile environment. It's easy enough to do this in the comfort of a talk show or in front of supporters, but to decline to play the game they've set for you in the heat of the moment, in the lion's den, is outstanding. And you can see that if our leaders don't cower, then they gain politically.
We need to re-elect this guy. Please help us. Thanks. (I'm not part of the campaign, though I do volunteer. Just a proud constituent.)