In the eyes of the press, it seems, President Obama is not only the first president to have written a book, but also the first to have acknowledged and embraced atheists as Americans. In his column today, Nicholas Kristof writes:
President Obama’s inclusiveness started with his celebration of America as a patchwork of “Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus — and nonbelievers.” If you know of any other sitting president who has dared to embrace atheists (Thomas Jefferson did, but not while in office), post the information on my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground.
Apparently Kristof and his blog haven’t noticed that this kind of off-handed inclusion of non-believers among the American sects has been par for the course in presidential rhetoric for quite some time. I couldn’t tell you when it started, but I know that George H.W. Bush certainly spoke this way, Bill Clinton did it all the time, and it was an utterly routine element of George W. Bush’s references to American religion. He even included it in his remarks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast—here’s an example from 2006, one of many:
In our country, we recognize our fellow citizens are free to profess any faith they choose, or no faith at all. You’re equally American if you’re a Jew, or a Christian, or a Muslim. You’re equally American if you choose not to have faith.
Of course they were all just anticipating the coming of Obama.