The idiom "jumping the shark" has come a long way. Its source is a strange episode of the old Happy Days television program in which a leather-jacket clad Fonzi jumps over the back of a shark while on water skis during a beach trip. Fans suggest that the moment Happy Days declined was the day Henry Winkler’s character "jumped the shark."
Nowadays television fans use the phrase to identify when their favorite (or not so favorite) programs hit the official point of decline. I think we can do the same for other facets of American life. For instance, we can safely say that reason jumped the shark this month as opponents of a planned Islamic center and mosque called Park51 just blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan have pulled out all the punches to stop the project.
Opponents of the center were hoping that an effort to have the 152 year old building at 45-47 Park Place reclassified as a historical landmark would be the project’s Waterloo. New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission instead voted unanimously against declaring the site a historical landmark last week. For the record, Park51’s real estate developer already owns 49-51 Park Place and needs the adjoining property to develop the center and mosque.
Imbecilic responses from the political paparazzi have flooded the airwaves and cyberspace:
"Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand. Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in the interest of healing," twittered 2012 presidential hopeful Sarah Palin in a statement sounding more like an awkward message to space aliens in a 1950s flick.
"Make no mistake. This is a poke in the eye," cried Glenn Beck, the favorite of the tinfoil hat crowd.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another potential presidential candidate shockingly stated that "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over."
Former U.S. Congressman and current New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio has launched an online petition to "Defend New York" from the mosque. Lazio’s primary election opponent Carl Paladino says he’ll use eminent domain laws to prevent the mosque from being constructed. Whatever happened to the conservative outrage against eminent domain abuse just a few years ago after Kelo v. New London? It now it seems like eminent domain abuse by big government is great as long as it keeps the Muslims out of Manhattan.
The National Republican Trust PAC issued this apocalyptic message: "On September 11th, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero. A mosque at Ground Zero must not stand. The political class says nothing. The politicians are doing nothing to stop it. But we Americans will be heard. Join the fight to kill the Ground Zero mosque."
Ex-mayor and failed presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani noted that "This is a desecration," and that "Nobody would allow something like that at Pearl Harbor. Let’s have some respect for who died there and why they died there. Let’s not put this off on some kind of politically correct theory. I mean, they died there because of Islamic extremist terrorism. They are our enemy, we can say that, the world will not end when we say that. And the reality is it will not and should not insult any decent Muslim because decent Muslims should be as opposed to Islamic extremism as you and I are."
So why spend all this time reviewing such psychobabble? For one thing, it demonstrates just how simply devoid our political rhetoric is of meaningful content and highlights the absence of any intellectual rigor. It also represents a shining example of what happens when we appeal to fear instead of our God-given gift of reason.
Second, it shows the utter hypocrisy of some politicians and pundits who attempt to defend the greatness of America by tearing down what really makes America grand. Polls tend to show that 76 percent of the American populace is Christian. Using the tyranny of the majority to run roughshod over the constitutional protections of a minority religious group is simply un-American and unpatriotic. In a 1799 letter Jefferson noted that "I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendency of one sect over another." Too bad we can’t say the same about fair-weather patriots like Palin, Beck, Giuliani, Lazio, Newt, and others.
How about a compromise? If the majority of New Yorkers, as identified by the Siena College Research Institute at 61 percent, oppose the establishment of the mosque and Islamic center at Park Place, they ought to also support a broad zoning mandate banning any place of worship in the Ground Zero vicinity.
A Google Maps search of the 10007 zip code shows five other houses of worship within several blocks of Ground Zero. One block away is the nondenominational Rivers Church, Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Church, and the Lower Manhattan Community Church, all of which are closer to Ground Zero than the proposed mosque. St. Paul’s Episcopal is two blocks away. Roughly three and a half blocks is Glad Tidings Tabernacle, associated with the Assemblies of God.
If detractors say that the Park51 mosque and community center can’t be within two blocks of Ground Zero, then why should the others be within one? Or the Assembly of God church within three? Ban them all. It makes just as much sense as the plan to keep the mosque out.
None of this makes any sense to real, patriotic Americans who believe in the Constitution. It appeals to our worst fears rather than the desire for a better nation. Let it be known that this is what you get when reason jumps the shark.