At a Democratic fundraiser on Monday night, President Obama once again misquoted the Declaration of Independence’s most famous sentence and once again omitted its reference to our “Creator.” According to the text of his remarks published on the official White House website, he said: “[W]hat makes this place [America] special is not something physical. It has to do with this idea that was started by 13 colonies that decided to throw off the yoke of an empire, and said, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that each of us are endowed with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’”
The first time that something happens and is met with publicity and criticism, it could well be an accident or part of the learning curve — like the first time one bows down to foreign royalty when other U.S. presidents haven’t; or the first time one issues a public apology abroad for past (real or imagined) American sins in a way that other presidents haven’t. But the second time, the assumption must be that it’s probably deliberate — and that makes it all the more appalling. Other presidents didn’t deliberately misquote the Declaration, and they didn’t leave out (or rewrite) the words about our rights being endowed by our Creator.
The first time President Obama misquoted the Declaration in this way, when addressing the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute a month ago, I wrote:
“Only two plausible explanations spring to mind. One is that President Obama isn’t very familiar with the most famous passage in the document that founded this nation; that even when plainly reading from a teleprompter, he wasn’t able to quote it correctly. The other is that President Obama doesn’t subscribe to the Declaration’s rather central claim that our rights come from our ‘Creator’ (also referred to in the Declaration as ‘Nature’s God’ and ‘the Supreme Judge of the World’).”
At this point, the second explanation certainly seems like the likelier one. Last month, President Obama stumbled a bit, pausing and then misquoting the passage in question in a couple of different places. The other night, he quoted the passage flawlessly, except that “they are endowed by their Creator” was replaced with “each of us are [sic] endowed.” The precision with which he quoted the rest of the passage makes his revision of one particular part seem less likely to have been an accident.
When asked by a reporter about omitting the reference to our Creator the last time (and on another occasion when he wasn’t quoting from the document but was merely paraphrasing and thus cannot, in all fairness, be said to have referenced it incorrectly), Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s full reply was, “I haven’t seen the comments, Lester [Kinsolving], but I can assure you the president believes in the Declaration of Independence.” It was a flimsy, and somewhat curious, response — as the topic of belief hadn't even been raised.
But, in any event, does the president believe in the Declaration? As I’ve noted, his administration’s 29-page overview to the U.N. on the respect, or disregard, for rights shown in America and throughout American history, doesn’t contain a single meaningful reference to the Declaration, its affirmation of certain unalienable rights, or its claim about the source of those rights. His presidential victory speech last Election Night incorrectly dated this nation’s existence from the writing of the Constitution, not from the signing of the Declaration. His Independence Day remarks in 2009 managed to avoid mentioning, or quoting from, the Declaration at all.
The president’s omission (or revision) of language that’s not only central to our country’s history, identity, and philosophy, but also to most of his fellow countrymen’s hearts, stands in stark contrast to other presidents' repeated offerings of thanks to God and their clear conviction that our rights do in fact come from Him.