Politically, the GOP's stance against American Muslims' right to build a new Islamic center in lower Manhattan marks a defining moment in the nativist resurgence gripping America.
Today, unfortunately, our most experienced conservative leaders are falling over themselves to reinforce Al Qaeda's toxic message that we're at war with Muslims, that America does not honor Islam.
By standing up for old fashioned American decency President Obama, they say, made a terrific, far reaching political mistake that will cost him dearly in November.
Really? This is Barack Obama we're talking about, one of the most cool headed political players America has produced in fifty years. I can't stress how much that's worth remembering.
It's been fascinating to watch how Obama's presidency continually strips his conservative opponents of their best political instincts, because they've walked into every trap they set for him. Again and again.
The reason is clear: Obama inspires in his foes an implacable opposition of a kind that we simply have not seen before. It's something new. Bolstered by overconfidence, his opponents consistently overplay their hands.
Being certain that you're correct is quite fatal in politics. It leaves no room for maneuver. It shuts down. But still they keep coming with their ultimatum dumbshows. Take Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, for example. This week he claimed the new Islamic center project 'would be like putting a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum.'
To suggest, as Gingrich does, that someone trying to build a tolerance center for moderate Muslims in New York is the equivalent of killing six million Jews is insufferable nonsense, obviously.
But that's not what fascinates me. The truly interesting thing is that a political figure of Gingrich's experience is now uttering such credulous nonsense without a sharp and immediate reprimand from his own party.
If you want to find the the GOP leadership these days just look for all the red faces. Behind the scenes, it must be hoped, the calmer heads are working hard to cool the rhetoric. Because at risk, no less, is the Muslim point of view both at home and abroad.
After two of the longest wars in American history, it's unspeakable that so many conservative politicians could be this blinkered, this narrowly partisan and this tone deaf to foreign policy in the Middle East.
The Tea Party rhetoric - and its remarkable enthusiasm for cathartic purges of all kinds - has blinded the party to the real danger its been put in. In pursuit of the populist vote they've put the public in the drivers seat.
Let's review: after allowing the Tea Party to set their agenda, African Americans, the gays, the undocumented and the Muslims have been crossed off the GOP's mailing list for 2010 and 2012.
My how that big tent's contracted. Taken together, that's a pretty large cross section of the United States standing out there in the cold. So who'll be left to vote for the GOP in 2012?
It's turns out that, after all, there is a great deal to be said for experience and nuanced governance. Popular wisdom says that Republican's will sweep to victory in November, but popular wisdom also appears to have stripped them of their longstanding political smarts.