Santorum to NRA: Obama doesn't understand America

AP News

4/29/2011 4:53:21 PM - AP News

Republican presidential aspirant Rick Santorum told National Rifle Association members at their annual convention Friday that President Barack Obama doesn't "understand America," and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told them the administration is "consistently anti-gun and anti-Second Amendment."

Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, criticized remarks the president made recently when he said America not only was a better country because of social programs like Medicare and Medicaid but added, "I'll go further _ we would not be a great country without these commitments."

"Mr. President," Santorum said, "You don't understand America if you believe that," because it implies the United States wasn't great for most of the first 200 years of its history.

Gingrich told the crowd that the 2012 presidential election is the most important in the country's history, because it will determine "whether we're going to remain a nation that believes our rights come from our creator."

Santorum, Gingrich and, later, freshman U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., spoke to NRA members mostly about general principles, including the concept of American exceptionalism. They defined it as not a claim to greatness because of pedigree, but because America is based on the idea that rights are God-given and inalienable _ which they argued is meant to be reflected in limited government and maximum personal liberty.

"You loan power to the government. The government doesn't loan power to you," Gingrich said.

But the speakers also had specific criticisms of the current administration _ from its views on the Second Amendment to foreign policy.

The White House referred a request for comment to the Democratic National Committee, which did not immediately return an e-mailed request for comment.

Earlier this week, the White House referred to a recent newspaper editorial by the president that stressed his views that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to own guns and noting that, because of policy changes he approved, people can now pack guns in luggage on Amtrak trains and carry them in federal parks and lands.

Despite that, Gingrich called the Obama administration "the most consistently anti-gun, and anti-Second Amendment administration we've ever seen." He accused the administration of planning a "stealth" campaign to eliminate gun owners' rights not by laws, but through international treaties that he says judges will determine take precedence over the Constitution.

Gingrich said that's dangerous because he said the right to gun ownership is primarily a check on government power.

"The right to bear arms is not about hunting. It's not about target shooting," Gingrich said. "It is a political right of the deepest importance to the survival of freedom in America."

Santorum and Gingrich both criticized the administration's foreign policy as not reflecting American interests.

"Our president has to believe in who we are and reflect those values to the world," Santorum said. "Not see America as something broken, something that wasn't good or great before our big government policies were introduced and go around the world apologizing for American behavior."

Gingrich made much the same point, with more pointed language.

"It should not be an Arab League foreign policy. It should not be a United Nations foreign policy," Gingrich said. "It should not be a will-our-friends-like-us foreign policy."

Barbara Saul, 62, of Pennsville, N.J., and her daughter-in-law Amy Saul, 43, of Wilmington, Del., said they agreed with virtually everything both men said, as well as remarks by other political figures including two pro-NRA Democrats, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Pittsburgh-area U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire.

"I'm more middle of the road than far right," Amy Saul said. "I guess I just feel as time goes on I'm leaning more right."

As for Gingrich, "I'd like to see him run for president. A lot of what he said is right on to me."

Barbara Saul said: "This country needs to be taken back. It's not about being a Republican or a Democrat. It's about working to get this president out and a new Congress and president for the country."