Former White House communications director Anita Dunn on Tuesday launched a furious attack against Republicans who have criticized President Obama’s remarks on the Ground Zero mosque, labeling the GOP as the party of intolerance.
“The Republican party as solidifying its reputation for intolerance in this year, for almost any kind of difference in American society, is going down a very dangerous long term road,” Dunn said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
“They might see some short term things although I think the American people are better than that,” she said.
Coming from Dunn — who is no longer works for the Obama administration but still goes to the White House for regular message meetings — the attacks on the GOP could be viewed as having been coordinated with top advisers to the president such as David Axelrod and Dan Pfeiffer, her former deputy who now runs Obama’s communications shop.
But when asked by e-mail, Dunn told the Daily Caller that Axelrod and Pfeiffer “did not know, approve, or suggest” her comments, which she said were her “own personal opinions.”
Numerous times, Dunn sought to characterize the debate over the mosque as one which pits those who want to preserve religious freedom against a Republican party which she said is “labeling all Muslims in this country as terrorists.”
“The race to the bottom in the Republican party this year – whether it is around revisiting the 14th amendment, whether it’s around immigration, or whether it is around this now – the race to the bottom means 2012 could be very, very depressing to watch. It’s almost like the party decided to update itself as the Know-nothing version 2.0.”
Dunn was challenged, however, by two others on the “Morning Joe” panel.
“What’s happened here is this is a problem for the White House because the president handled this horribly by the way he did this on Friday, horribly by what he’s come back with on Saturday,” said Mark Halperin, of Time Magazine.
“But Anita, isn’t the fundamental problem right now that the president is refusing to take a position, as your friend and client Senator Reid did, where does the president stand on what Americans really care about. We’re all for freedom of expression, we’re all for freedom of speech, but where does the president stand on what he thinks should happen with this cultural center?” Halperin said.
Dunn didn’t answer Halperin’s query, but corrected his assertion that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, is her client.
“There is barely a group of people in the United States who at some point has not been targeted over the past, and this country tends to close ranks and say, ‘No, we’re better than that,'” Dunn said. “And that’s what the president was trying to take this argument to, I think to a much higher level.”
But conservative political commentator Pat Buchanan challenged Dunn’s notion of tolerance.
“Anita, let me ask you about this word tolerance. I mean, what about tolerance for the views of the thousands of families of those who died on 9/11, the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who are saying, ‘Please, you have a right to move the mosque there but please don’t do it. It doesn’t belong there,’ and the vast majority of Americans who say the same thing?” Buchanan said.
“They have a right to build a mosque, but for heavens’ sakes given the fact that the terrorists were Islamic, it was crucial to their identity and their mission, please don’t put an Islamic mosque just two blocks from where this happened. What about tolerance for the vast majority of Americans and their opinions?” he said.
Dunn responded: “Well, you know, I have to ask, it’s two blocks … It’s a center that is supposed to be about promoting interfaith, and really reaching out, which in many ways is I think what President Bush back in those horrible days of 2001, really tried to promote.”
“And how many blocks is ok? Is nine blocks okay? Is 10? I don’t know where you go with this argument,” Dunn said.
“Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski ended the segment with a non-sequitur.
“And Anita, they have, like, other things that a lot of people have issues with, like peep shows. So, I mean, I think you bring up a really good point,” Brzezinski said.
Halperin, in a later segment, said that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is on solid ground in calling on Obama to state a position on whether the mosque should be built so close to Ground Zero.