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Ground Zero mosque comments: Did Obama have to say anything?

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'It's his obligation'

When asked why Obama decided to weigh in on the mosque, deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton said: “The president thinks that it’s his obligation to speak out when he thinks issues of the Constitution are – when issues of the Constitution arise. And so, in this case, he decided to state clearly how he feels about making sure that people are treated equally, that there is a fairness and that our bedrock principles are upheld.”

Burton added that the president did not raise the issue for political reasons, but “because he feels he has an obligation as the president to address this.”

The politics of the issue have been poisonous, especially for a president who has spent his political career refuting the notion that he is Muslim. Polls show a majority of the public does not support the construction of the Islamic center so close to the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. But perhaps most important, the firestorm has been a major distraction, less than three months before crucial midterm elections that portend bad news for the Democrats.

“Messaging has been a problem of this administration from the very start of his presidency,” says Julian Zelizer, a historian and public policy expert at Princeton University.

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