October 21, 2010
Obama Edits the Declaration of Independence
President Obama has taken to referencing the language of the Declaration of Independence while omitting key words. Although the practice has garnered attention of late, it dates back to the beginning of his presidency.
An October 19 article at CNSnews by Penny Star noted that "For the second time in little over a month, President Barack Obama stripped the word 'Creator' from the Declaration of Independence when giving a speech." These speeches have generated much debate concerning whether the president's omissions were deliberate or mistaken.
The answer, I think, can be found in President Obama's inauguration speech, which is perhaps the most striking example of this phenomenon, yet no one seemed to notice it then.
Toward the beginning of President Obama's inauguration speech, he said,
America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebearers, and true to our founding documents.
A few paragraphs later, he said,
The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
These opening lines are obviously meant to remind the listener of the Declaration.
A little later, in the same speech, the president called on the Founding Fathers, the documents they wrote, and the ideals those documents contain. He said that we will not give up those ideals:
Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.
But what does the Declaration actually say? It says this:
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.
Notice that in President Obama's speech, the words "created," "Creator," and "Life" are conspicuously missing. Why?
Notice, also, how he utilized three terms: "equal," "free," and "happiness." He removed the term "Life" from the list of the three rights and then replaced it with the term "equal," which occurs earlier in the Declaration. By retaining three terms and by replacing "life" with another word from the same document -- namely, "equal" -- Obama succeeded in generating in the audience a vague recollection of the Declaration while at the same time rewriting it. With well-crafted sophistry, he did precisely what he said we would not do: he gave up the original ideals for expedience's sake.
To say "all are equal" is not to say "all are created equal." To say that there is a "God-given promise" is not to say that there is a self-evident truth that we are all endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights. To leave "Life" out of the list of rights, is, well, to delete the first term in the original list of three.
To paraphrase one of his recent predecessors, I wonder what President Obama's meaning of the word "all" is. By removing the term "Life," who, one wonders, is included in "all"?
In the very same speech, right under our noses, Obama said that we would not give up those ideals and then promptly gave them up. He did it in such a way that no one noticed. Why?
In his inauguration speech, President Obama gave up "created," "Creator," and "Life." Is this true to our founding documents, or is it the work of a skilled rhetorician bent on the deconstruction of those documents by stealth? Is it a deliberate attempt to take the opportunity of a presidential inauguration to make major headway at deconstructing the Declaration in the minds of people, or was he just waxing eloquent, but inexactly? The recent speeches give powerful evidence that from the inauguration on, this has been deliberate and calculated.
Peter J. Colosi is assistant professor of moral theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood PA.