Matt Lauer on Today Show: Does Mosque Have To Move Just Because of 9/11?

NBC's Matt Lauer, invited on former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Freedom Works' Matt Kibbe to discuss the Ground Zero mosque controversy and claimed that since the group behind the mosque existed in Manhattan before the World Trade Center attack, questioned: "So because of 9/11, do they have to move further away? Do they have to go elsewhere?" Armey, who was on with Kibbe to promote their new book Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto, responded to the Today show co-anchor "that because you have the right to do something doesn't make it the right thing to do" and pointed out to Lauer that those behind the mosque should be more "responsive to the concerns that are being raised."

The following is the full interview with Armey and Kibbe as it was aired on the August 17 Today show:

MATT LAUER: Dick Armey is a former Republican congressman from Texas, who served as House Majority Leader. Matt Kibbe is CEO and president of Freedom Works, a conservative non-profit grassroots organization. Together they've written a new book called Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto. Guys, good morning. Nice to see you again.

[On screen headline: "Tea Party Manifesto, How Can The GOP Win The Midterm Elections?"]

MATT KIBBE: Good morning.

DICK ARMEY: Good morning.

LAUER: Congressman, good to see you.

ARMEY: Nice to see you.

LAUER: Before I get to the book, I gotta ask you your take on this whole mosque controversy. The President seems to have turned it into a national debate with his comments over the weekend and it seems it's getting more and more emotional. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich compared building a mosque on that site to the Nazis putting up a sign at the Holocaust Museum. Do you agree with that analogy?

ARMEY: Well that's a pretty harsh analogy, but this is an extremely important issue and it's heart felt, as you can see, across the nation. I personally would prefer they build it someplace else, I think it would be a more respectful position for them to take. I was fascinated by the President, though. He's obviously trying to change the subject away from his failed economic policies, but I think he really picked the wrong choice.

LAUER: When you say it's a tough analogy that Newt Gingrich came up with, I mean, you know, he's comparing it the Nazis. We were at war against the Nazis. We are not at war against Islam. Never have been, are not now. Al Qaeda, yes, but not Islam. So do comments like that inform or inflame?

ARMEY: Well it's always, they are always difficult in both cases. I, that's an analogy that I think is drawn a bit further than it needed to have been. Still, on the other hand, the stated purpose they give for the mosque - and in politics, you understand, I always say politics is like a dysfunctional marriage, every fight's really about something else. The stated purpose for the mosque would be better served if out of respect for the strong feelings there, they said we want to continue with our program to enhance intercultural understanding, cross religious understandings and we'll build it someplace else out of respect for these, these strong feelings.

LAUER: So, so they have every right to build it at that site, but you think it's, it's in better taste to build it somewhere else? I'm, I'll look at the title of your book, Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto. Liberty, by definition, is the condition of being free from restriction or control. That applies to religious freedom as well, doesn't it?

KIBBE: It sure does, but you know this community that we talk about, you find that there are people from, from all walks of life, all religions and what binds the community together is economic freedom. And we would argue about other things when we got into those issues, but it's, it's really, that's what makes America great. It's this, it's this combination of all these different cultures and opinions.

LAUER: When, when you talk about this particular group, though, this, this group has been in lower Manhattan for years and years. They were there before 9/11. So because of 9/11, do they have to move further away? Do they have to go elsewhere?

ARMEY: No, there's an old saying, that because you have the right to do something doesn't make it the right thing to do. And I would again take this group back to their own stated purposes for the mosque. What do they hope to achieve with it? Which is greater cross cultural understandings. If that is the case, then let them be responsive to the concerns that are being raised and these concerns are legitimate heartfelt concerns. And the gracious thing to do becomes the right thing to do. And the right thing to do is to say, "I'm going to be deferential to your strong feelings because my greater cause, which I stated at the outset of this debate, will be better served by my being that generously responsive to you. And it now becomes a question of sort of a stubborn, refusal to be responsive to people's legitimate concerns. And then you get what I call the hardening of the attitudes and now you got a national issue.

LAUER: Let me move on, we'll leave it at that. In the book you talk about the roots to of the new Republican revolution. This is a guy who led the last Republican revolution back in 1994. A revolution that in the book you read, or you write that "It did not live up to its potential because it devolved into an embarrassing gap between rhetoric and fiscal policy." Why will the new revolution be different?

KIBBE: Because this is a revolution from the bottom-up. This is real people saying politics is too important to leave it to the politicians. 1994 was an inside job of a, of a few true believers that sort of took over the Republican caucus. These folks are saying, "We don't trust the Republicans or the Democrats to fix the economic problems we have in this country. We're gonna do it for ourselves."

LAUER: In just a couple of seconds I have left a recent poll that I saw, NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, for the first time more people have a negative view of the Tea Party than a positive view. What is the main misconception that you think people have about the Tea Party movement?

ARMEY: Well, obviously the misconception is being fostered by everybody who's afraid of this massive big movement. Misconception that it is some place to the right extreme. This is right smack down the middle, standing on those issues that are most greatly of concern to the American people. There's nothing violent about this. These, these are mostly grandparents. And the fact is the, the issue, the, this group of sincere, concerned Americans that are devoted to this preservation of this country as it is, are being mischaracterized every day. But I can guarantee you, if you read our book and if you walk among these folks, the first thing you're gonna say is, "These folks are just like me and, and I got the same worries they got. And I don't blame 'em for being here upset and trying to inform this government. You ought to listen to us for a change."

LAUER: Former Congressman Dick Armey and Matt Kibbe. Guys, thanks very much. We appreciate you being here.

KIBBE: Thanks Matt.

ARMEY: Thank you.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.