Gingrich on Obama’s “Kenyan, Anti-Colonial Behavior” and “American Exceptionalism”

Newt Gingrich calls Dinesh D’Souza’s cover story at Forbes a “stunning insight” into Obama. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, read Adam Serwer’s takedown of it, the money line being “This is the witchdoctor sign without photoshop, WorldNetDaily without the exclamation points.” Or, from the right, Daniel Larison’s pronouncement of the story “the most ridiculous piece of Obama analysis yet written,” its thesis “simply stupid,” its conclusion “inexcusably moronic. . .  ideological Birtherism.”

At Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference on Friday (D’Souza delivered a speech on Saturday, which I missed, but which I understand was about this very topic) Gingrich trod on more familiar territory: that Obama doesn’t understand “American exceptionalism,” which in Gingrich’s view means that Obama doesn’t understand America’s divine roots.

Like D’Souza was birtherism-lite, as Serwer called it, this was Obama-isn’t-a-real-Christian-lite. D’Souza and Gingrich are playing off each other, with Gingrich delivering the latter message to Reed’s minions, while D’Souza delivered his to the readers of, stunningly, Forbes.

D’Souza tapped into the “American exceptionalism” argument, too, without the explicit God references:

[W]e have been blinded to [Obama's] real agenda because, across the political spectrum, we all seek to fit him into some version of American history. In the process, we ignore Obama’s own history. Here is a man who spent his formative years–the first 17 years of his life–off the American mainland, in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa.

Because, as we all know, Hawaii isn’t America? Apparently not. And Obama doesn’t understand the founders’ intentions:

A good way to discern what motivates Obama is to ask a simple question: What is his dream? Is it the American dream? Is it Martin Luther King’s dream? Or something else?

It is certainly not the American dream as conceived by the founders. They believed the nation was a “new order for the ages.” A half-century later Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of America as creating “a distinct species of mankind.” This is known as American exceptionalism. But when asked at a 2009 press conference whether he believed in this ideal, Obama said no. America, he suggested, is no more unique or exceptional than Britain or Greece or any other country.

On Friday, Gingrich took that ball and ran with it into God territory. His thesis on American exceptionalism is by now familiar to anyone watching how the self-anointed constitutional purists of the tea parties are finding common ground with proponents of America as a “Christian nation.” The rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights have a divine source, coming not from human hands but God’s, as documented in the Declaration of Independence. That defines what Gingrich calls “American exceptionalism,” something he confidently asserts the “secularist socialists in the Obama government” simply do not understand. (Or, perhaps, post-D’Souza, he will start saying the “Kenyan anti-colonialists in the Obama government.”)

Gingrich claims Obama “doesn’t understand anything about” the sentence in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

To the Faith and Freedom audience, he explained that sentence in Gingrich-ian terms:

It says God has given each one of you personally sovereignty. The rights are inalienable, they come from God. . . . in America what makes us exceptionalist, is unlike any other country in the world, we say, you are personally sovereign, you loan power to the government, the government is never sovereign and the government doesn’t define your rights, you define the government.

That is almost as vapid and meaningless as D’Souza’s fantasy that Obama is secretly carrying out his father’s “anti-colonialist” agenda as he remains “trapped in his father’s time machine.” Yet what it says — just like D’Souza — is that Obama isn’t one of us. He doesn’t understand the superpowers God gave us as individuals and as Americans. He’s not only trying to take away our freedoms (the tea party rallying cry), he’s ruining America’s standing as the city upon the hill (a religious right rallying cry). And God only knows, if all that gets taken away, who knows what kind of secular nonsense will be taught in public schools, how many dudes will get married to each other, and what variety of shari’a law will replace the Constitution.

Gingrich didn’t come right out and say, Obama’s not a Christian. Or even that Obama is a wacky liberation theology Christian. Like D’Souza, toying with birtherism-lite, Gingrich is deploying Obama’s-not-a-Christian-lite.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email