PICKING UP THE SLACK ON BLOOMBERG BASHING…. Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) delivered a beautiful speech in support of the Cordoba House, the proposed Muslim community center to be built a couple of blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

It was the kind of speech that, under more ideal circumstances, effectively ends a debate: “Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.”

The right’s push against the community center, of course, has only increased since, but I haven’t seen much in the way of criticism of Bloomberg. I’d assumed it was because the mayor’s position was so difficult to refute, Republicans chose to just steer clear of it.

But Bill Kristol today starts the overdue offensive against the mayor.

The conclusion of Bloomberg’s speech was odd: “Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure — and there is no neighborhood in this City that is off limits to God’s love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us can attest.” Do the rest of us need Bloomberg’s hand-picked religious leaders to tell us that there are no limits to God’s love and mercy?

Actually, I suspect the point of Bloomberg assembling an ecumenical panel was to prove that this “controversy” isn’t about helping one specific religious tradition — it’s about honoring principles that serve the interests of all. It’s why we’re seeing diverse groups of faith leaders stepping up to denounce “xenophobia and religious bigotry” in the midst of this debate.

Kristol added:

[I]f Bloomberg were to have his way, it’s worth noting that he would presumably attend a dedication of Feisal Abdul Rauf’s mosque at Ground Zero before he would attend a dedication of a proper memorial to those who died there.

Contemporary liberalism means building a mosque rather than a memorial at Ground Zero — and telling your fellow citizens to shut up about it.

I don’t know nearly enough about internal NYC politics to know why there’s been so little progress at the Ground Zero site; maybe Bloomberg deserves some blame, maybe not. I’m not in a position to say.

I can say, however, that Kristol is playing a dishonest little game, which is consistent with his usual brand of intellectual dishonesty. The building at Park51 would not stand “at Ground Zero,” and Kristol knows it. He’s just hoping conservative activists won’t know the difference.

Kristol could have gone after Bloomberg on the merits, but that wouldn’t have worked out as well. It’s cheap shots like this that continue to make it impossible for credible observers to take Kristol seriously.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.