Halperin’s advice predicated on decency (which may not exist)

HALPERIN’S ADVICE PREDICATED ON DECENCY (WHICH MAY NOT EXIST)…. For months, the Republican message has been vague but focused — the economy matters more than everything else. The GOP doesn’t necessarily have an economic agenda, or credible ideas on how to improve the economy, or even an explanation as to why they want to go back to the some policies that got us in this mess in the first place, but the focus is still there.

That may be changing. Republicans have seized on a plan to convert a shut-down clothing store into a community center in lower Manhattan, believing the plan can help pit Americans against each other and give the GOP a boost in the midterm elections. President Obama’s spirited defense on Friday of the First Amendment and the American tradition of religious liberty has made Republicans even more anxious to embrace demagoguery for electoral gain.

Time‘s Mark Halperin published a letter to the Republican Party, acknowledging the “political potency” of the issue, and taking note of the fact that the president’s support for American principles puts him at odds with public opinion. Halperin concludes, however, that it would be in America’s interests for Republicans to show restraint.

Yes, Republicans, you can take advantage of this heated circumstance, backed by the families of the 9/11 victims, in their most emotional return to the public stage since 2001.

But please don’t do it. There are a handful of good reasons to oppose allowing the Islamic center to be built so close to Ground Zero, particularly the family opposition and the availability of other, less raw locations. But what is happening now — the misinformation about the center and its supporters; the open declarations of war on Islam on talk radio, the Internet and other forums; the painful divisions propelled by all the overheated rhetoric — is not worth whatever political gain your party might achieve.

It isn’t clear how the battle over the proposed center should or will end. But two things are profoundly clear: Republicans have a strong chance to win the midterm elections without picking a fight over President Obama’s measured words. And a national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner — the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy.

As I said, Republicans, this is your moment. As a famous New Yorker once urged in a very different context: Do the right thing.

This is excellent, thoughtful advice. It asks Republicans to look past the short-term gratification that demagoguery offers, and consider what’s best for the country and our broader interests.

What Halperin wants, in other words, is for Republicans to demonstrate some decency and respect for American values. I would very much like to think this is still possible, but the party has offered no credible reason to believe it has the necessary strength of character.

I would genuinely love to be proven wrong, but waiting for GOP integrity invariably leads to crushing disappointment.