Today, a discussion of two issues for the price of one:

Koran burning: A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Muslims in New York City may have the right to build an Islamic center/mosque near ground zero, but they should voluntarily forego it in the interests of national harmony.

Then the pastor of a tiny church in Florida decided that Sept. 11 should be “International Burn a Koran Day.”

Thursday, however, he said he changed his mind, citing promises he had received that the mosque would be moved, a pledge that was later denied by the mosque’s sponsors.

But that came after his scheme created an international controversy in which no less a figure than Gen. David Petraeus said that it would so offend Muslims that U.S. troops would be endangered.

The cases aren’t similar, but the conclusion is the same: Yes, the church’s pastor, the Rev. Terry Jones, has a right to burn Korans; and no, he shouldn’t do it.

But the situations differ. The mosque’s imam, Feisal Rauf, may have been sent abroad on the taxpayer’s dollar by our State Department to boost our image with overseas coreligionists, but he’s been squishy-soft on condemning terrorist groups like Hamas and has suggested we bore some blame for the attacks of 9/11 due to our treatment of Muslims abroad (such as defending them in Kosovo and Bosnia?).

Rauf also has been less than forthcoming about the sources of the financing he plans to call on to build his center. So, there is substance as well as symbolism to the opposition to the mosque’s location expressed by most Americans (including 70 percent of New Yorkers).

Objections to Koran-burning, however, spring from different sources. First of all, book-burning harks back to images of Nazis tossing volumes of classic literature on bonfires to express their hostility to the norms of civilization itself.

Indeed, the word “holocaust” literally means “to destroy (a sacrifice) by fire.” But rather than continue, let me quote words addressed to Rev. Jones that speak for me as well:

“(Koran-burning) will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious intolerance. Don’t feed that fire. If your ultimate point is to prove that the Christian teachings of mercy, justice, freedom and equality provide the foundation on which our country stands, then your tactic to prove this point is totally counter-productive. Our nation was founded in part by those fleeing religious persecution. Freedom of religion is integral to our charters of liberty. We don’t need to agree with each other on theological matters, but tolerating each other without unnecessarily provoking strife is how we ensure a civil society.”

Thus wrote Sarah Palin this week, and no one said it better.

Obama’s free-fall: As polls of presidential popularity, to use a military coinage, “adversely impact the air-ground interface with subsequent on-board fuel ignition,” it leads people to wonder how he managed to turn the atmosphere of good feeling that followed his election into its exact opposite in just two short years.

In that time, the president has gone from more than 70 percent approval to close to 40 percent, and Congress has more than 70 percent of Americans in opposition. This is an “epic fail,” and while historians will write books about it, some reasons are apparent now.

First, the president and his party, elected in part due to voters’ worries about the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush administration, showed even less concern for deficits and debt.

Their claims that the stimulus and health care reform would save money and promote growth fell afoul of ever-growing unemployment in the first case, and analyses of the latter that showed it piling up over $1 trillion in new costs, not to mention less choice and hugely increased regulatory burdens.

Pushing socialized health care through against public opposition, continued threats of higher taxes and endless spending, the takeover of a signature American company, General Motors, and the refusal to secure our borders all solidly demonstrated Democratic arrogance to voters.

With the party’s signature domestic initiatives as far underwater in the polls as many homeowners now find themselves with their mortgages, there has been little to brag about on the home front.

Abroad, Obama as a candidate pledged to close Guantanamo, bring the troops home from Iraq (a conflict he termed “a mistake”) and focus on Afghanistan as the key front in the anti-terror effort. But the prison camp’s still open, 50,000 troops remain in Iraq with a presidential blessing, and a “surge-lite” in Afghanistan, despite sending Gen. Petraeus to oversee operations, still awaits a clear path to victory.

At least breaking those promises helps defend us. But Iran continues to seek nuclear weapons, which could end up in terrorist hands even if Tehran refrains from using them on Tel Aviv (or vice versa, or both).

At a minimum, the Iranian bomb will likely lead other regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Jordan to build them in self-defense. Proliferation, thy name is Ahmadinutjob.

It’s not that Bush did any better, but Obama ran on the claim that he was uniquely qualified to bring peace where others wanted conflict. So far, that’s a claim without any results (except an empty Nobel Prize).

In sum, Obama and the Democrats governed from the left in a center-right nation, and, if current polling proves predictive, will pay a huge price Nov. 2 for that miscalculation.

M.D. Harmon is an editorial writer. He can be contacted at 791-6482 or at:

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