From the left (broadly speaking) Obama is being criticised for spineless vacillation in walking back from his first statement on the mosque. From the right (broadly speaking) he is attacked for being out of touch with the American public. First he affirmed the centrality of religious freedom and the Constitution’s protection of it — which was widely assumed to mean he wanted the mosque to be built. Next day, he said he would offer no opinion on the wisdom, as opposed to the legality, of building the mosque. The muddled message exposed him to attack from both sides. Those who extravagantly praised his first statement, going beyond what he said and reading it into it what they wanted to see, were left looking stupid.
It was incompetent politics, all right, yet the position Obama stated — including the walk-back, not despite it — strikes me as both principled and reasonable. The Constitution protects the core value of religious freedom, and the mosque builders are perfectly within their rights to go ahead. Whether it is wise to go ahead in the face of so much public unease is a separate issue.