In an interview with GQ last week, Karl Rove accused Barack Obama of falsely writing in The Audacity of Hope that "'people like . . . Karl Rove say we are a Christian nation.'"
"I did not say that. I confronted him about it. At the White House," Rove told GQ. Asked how Obama responded, Rove replied: "Well, first he denied that I was in the book! And then he denied that it said that I said that it was a Christian nation. And then when I pulled out the thing [he had a copy of the offensive page with him] and showed it to him, he sort of blah-blah-blah-blah-blah- blah-blah."
Did Obama libel Rove? The Obama campaign did not respond to an email requesting comment. In the offending passage from The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote, "But for a younger generation of conservative operatives who would soon rise to power, for Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove and Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, the fiery rhetoric was more than a matter of campaign strategy. They were true believers who meant what they said, whether it was 'No new taxes' or 'We are a Christian nation.'"
This phrasing, though somewhat shifty, implies that Rove, Gingrich, Reed, and Norquist were opponents of "new taxes" and proponents of a "Christian nation." Indeed, all four have opposed tax increases--though they may not have uttered the famous George H.W. Bush quote verbatim. But I was unable to find any public record of the four of them saying America is a "Christian nation."
"I've never said we're a Christian nation. It's not correct. I've never thought it," Grover Norquist told me in a phone interview. Ralph Reed also denied that he has ever said America is a "Christian nation." In a 1995 speech to the Anti-Defamation League, Reed, then-executive director of the Christian Coalition, denounced "the blatant wrongs of a few," including "those who said that this is a 'Christian nation,' suggesting that others may not be welcome." Newt Gingrich's spokesman declined to comment on the matter. If Gingrich has said America is a Christian nation, there's no record of it in Nexis.
It's not clear why Gingrich is unwilling to comment on the subject, but perhaps he doesn't want to become mired in questions about the senses in which America is or is not a Christian nation. For example, when John McCain was asked last September if he agreed with a poll that found "55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation," he was criticized for agreeing with the statement, even though he qualified his support in "the broadest sense" that America is a "nation founded on Christian principles."
Of course, the issue at hand is the integrity of Obama's quote--not whether America is a Christian nation. Obama frequently campaigns on his reputation for fair-mindedness. A couple days before Super Tuesday, he boasted on CBS's Face the Nation that his "willingness to listen to Republicans about some of their ideas even though I may not agree with all of them" would help "attract independents and Republicans in a way that Senator Clinton cannot."
The revelation that Obama smeared some Republicans as being sectarian or theocratic may do more damage to his reputation, which suffered a blow last week when the Columbia Journalism Review wrote that Obama had been "lying" or "deeply misleading" in his claims that John McCain is willing to continue the war in Iraq for "100 years." Even Frank Rich wrote in the New York Times that "Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should be ashamed of themselves for libeling John McCain."
Obama may promise to listen to what Republicans have to say, but his history of twisting their words shows either a troubling lack of comprehension or, worse still, a willful disregard for the truth.
John McCormack is and editorial assistant at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.