Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Gingrich’s demonizing Obama won’t save GOP

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., last week. Gingrich called the Obama administration "intensely secular" and "anti-religious."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., last week. Gingrich called the Obama administration "intensely secular" and "anti-religious."

Bereft of new ideas and at risk of backing themselves into a corner that may prove to be a political black hole, Republicans are spoiling for a fight with Democrats they think they can win – one that will breathe new life into the Grand Old Party.

That battle seems to be shaping up over religion.

Last week, during a speech to Turkey’s parliament, President Obama said Americans “do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

Shortly after that, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the Obama administration “intensely secular” and “anti-religious.”

Gingrich wasn’t reacting to the remarks in Turkey; he was responding to Obama’s decision to name Harry Knox, an unabashed gay rights activist, to the White House faith-based council. But the president’s words must have set off a chorus of hallelujahs in Republican ranks.

Christian conservatives, once the bulwark of the Republican Party, have backed away from the GOP. Evangelicals such as Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, pin this break on the GOP’s failure to work hard to block gay marriages.

Before the 2004 election, “there was a great emphasis by the Republicans and (former President George W. Bush) on the need to protect marriage,” Perkins told U.S. News & World Report in February. “It was used to secure a second term for President Bush and to expand Republican control of Congress. And after the election, the issue was basically dropped.”

Since then, the breach has widened as Christian conservatives soured on the 2008 presidential campaign of Republican Sen. John McCain and expressed discomfort with the recent choice of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele as national GOP chairman. Both McCain and Steele are viewed as social moderates.

So not surprisingly, Gingrich, who was House speaker when Republicans and Christian conservatives were kindred spirits, is trying to use religion – or more specifically, the accusation that the Obama administration is anti-religious – to renew that old bond.

“I think their goal is to have a very secular America in which government dominates everything,” Gingrich said, seeming to warn of an apocalyptic end to religion in this country if Democrats hold on to Congress and the White House doesn’t change its views.

Obama may have inadvertently played into Gingrich’s hands when he told Turkish lawmakers that one of America’s great strengths is that we do not consider our country a political manifestation of Christianity or any other religious faith.

There is certainly evidence the drafters of the Constitution intended to create a secular government, but Obama’s words probably angered many Christian conservatives who believe otherwise.

Still, the president is not without powerful allies in the faith-based community.

During an address four years ago at a conference of black journalists, Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of America’s “superpastors,” also said he didn’t think the United States was a Christian nation.

“As we continue to try to politicize God, or market God, or say that America is Christian, or that God is with one party, or that God is here and not there, it only further points to the fact that we don’t understand how big God is – and how great God is,” said Jakes, whom Time magazine once called “one of religion’s most prodigious polymaths.”

Gingrich failed to reduce Obama’s job approval rating by branding his approach to the broken economy the work of a closet socialist, so now he’s suggesting the president is an enemy of religion.

That’s an act of political desperation that will only plunge the GOP deeper into the abyss.

DeWayne Wickham is a Maryland-based columnist who writes for USA TODAY. E-mail: DeWayneWickham@aol.com

Citizen Online Archive, 2006-2009

This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

Search site | Terms of service