Obama's no-show at Gettysburg event: Snub, or smart?
November 18th, 2013
12:02 PM ET
11 months ago

Obama's no-show at Gettysburg event: Snub, or smart?

(CNN) - As Pennsylvania gears up to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address on Tuesday, one prominent Abraham Lincoln fan won't be in attendance: President Barack Obama.

The National Park Service announced a few weeks ago the President won't be part of the activities commemorating the historic speech, and critics have since assailed Obama for skipping the event.

"It would be an occasion for him to honor a crucial time in our past, to create a historical bridge to today," Salena Zito, a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review staff writer, wrote in a column.

"His dismissal of the request shows a man so detached from the duty of history, from the men who served in the White House before him, that it is unspeakable in its audacity," Zito added. "Ask almost any person in this historic town; even his most ardent supporters here are stunned."

Lesson from Lincoln: Mr. President, you're talking too much

Twenty-four presidents have visited Gettysburg since the summer of 1863 and the sesquicentennial has been a year-long series of events, culminating on Tuesday.

In his place, the White House is sending little known Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who started her Cabinet position just this year.

The York Daily Record noted in an editorial it would only seem natural for the first black President to honor a moment in history known for its "new birth of freedom."

"President Obama could have used this occasion to offer words of healing and reconciliation - as his Illinois forefather once did," the editorial stated, adding that his decision not to come is "unacceptable."

Critics further point to the President's own fondness for Lincoln. Obama, for example, announced his first campaign for President in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln's home is located.

The President also took the oath of office on Lincoln's Bible during both of his inaugurations. And for the first inauguration, he replicated Lincoln's 1861 trip from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C., to assume the presidency.

But Heather Cox Richardson, professor of history at Boston College, said Obama is making the right-though ironic-decision not to go.

The Gettysburg Address, she said, is a re-dedication of the idea of equality that was seized upon in the Declaration of Independence a century earlier. And now, with the country mired in sharp political divisiveness, Richardson said the message of Lincoln's famous speech needs to resonate.

"By not going, President Obama lets that speech stand on its own. If he went, it would all be about him," she said, stressing that his detractors would unfairly have a "field day" trying to hammer Obama for drawing attention to himself on such a symbolic day.

"The themes of the Gettysburg Address are what we really need to focus on," she added. "And in an ironic twist, our first black President can't be present for them."

So what does the White House say?

When asked why he wasn't going, White House spokesman Jay Carney on October 31 gave no reason, other than to say he had no updates on the President's schedule for November 19.

"I think that is an enormously significant event in our history, and I think Americans will take the appropriate time to consider it, consider the speech that was delivered there," he said. "But beyond that, I don't have any updates on the President's schedule."

It has since become known that Obama is scheduled to speak at the annual meeting of the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.

Ken Burns: Learn Lincoln's words by heart

The President, however, hasn't been totally silent on this year's big anniversary. He appears in a video with the four other living Presidents–as well as a number of high profile figures in politics, the media and entertainment–to recite the Gettysburg Address. The effort was put together by documentarian Ken Burns as part of his push to get Americans to record themselves remembering the speech.

The video opens–and ends–with Obama stating the famous words.


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (308 Responses)
  1. A True Conservative

    Good – stay away from it Mr. President....you are no Lincoln.....

    November 18, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  2. powerfail

    It is obviously not very important to him. Despite his previous words honoring Lincoln.

    November 18, 2013 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  3. just saying

    "I think that is an enormously significant event in our history, and I think Americans will take the appropriate time to consider it, consider the speech that was delivered there," he said. "But beyond that, I don't have any updates on the President's schedule."
    --

    why such concealment from the self proclaimed most transparent president in history? another obama farce exposed.

    i'm sure he is not interested in going as 1. there are celebrities there, 2. no campaign fund raising will be allowed, 3. there is no golf course where he can slip in a few rounds, and 4. the real reason, he could no tengage in his usual partisan attacks on republicans but instead would be expected to praise the greatest president, a republican.

    November 18, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  4. Moonhill

    I guess he couldn't find it in himself to honor a Republican.

    November 18, 2013 12:19 pm at 12:19 pm |
  5. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    "President Obama could have used this occasion to offer words of healing and reconciliation – as his Illinois forefather once did,"
    ------------------------------------------–
    Give me a break! Reconciliation? When you've got bigots standing in front of the White House waving the Confederate Flag. Really!?!? When these Tea Party racists call THIS President every foul thing besides for a child of God. Lincoln is rolling over in his grave seeing what has become of his party.

    November 18, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  6. Ace

    Either way Republicans would attack him.

    November 18, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  7. Anonymous

    Mr. Obama probably doesn't want his presence to become an excuse for the Right to evicerate the National Park Service.

    November 18, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  8. Seyedibar

    He's the President of the most influential nation in the world. He obviously has much more important work to do than show up at celebrations and stroke patriotic egos. The Gettysburg event is lovely sentiment, but ultimately a waste of time and money if there are more serious matters to attend, and I'm sure there are many.

    November 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  9. Donna

    Progressive liberals like Obama and the rest of the Democrat Party want Americans to forget their history, forget their past, forget their traditions. Why would Obama want to go there and reinforce all that? It would hurt their agenda.

    Besides, Lincoln was a uniter. Obama is a divider. They are two very different people.

    November 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  10. Al-NY,NY

    A True Conservative

    you are no Lincoln.....
    ----------

    name one GOP president in the last century who has been one....and DO NOT say St (change my diapers) Ronnie

    November 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  11. kzooresident

    All considerations of tradition, honor, or simply what's the right thing to do are insignificant in the shadow of what's the most politically beneficial decision. Nothing this Administration does is decided-upon with any other consideration in mind.

    November 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  12. Smeagel4T

    Just think of the pain this inflicts upon poor FauxNews. They had their "Obama spends tens of millions of dollars to grandstand at Gettysburg" propaganda all written, and now they have to rewrite it to "Obama snubs Gettysburg."

    November 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  13. DarqueSide

    Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't. If he did attend, people would be complaining that he's not FOCUSED on the important business of the ACA/Benghazi/IRS/Iran/Israel/the economy/WHATEVER!

    November 18, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  14. John Janus

    Why would anyone be surprised that he isn't interested in attending an event that celebrates the successes of a Republican President ?

    November 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  15. jeckhard

    No matter what the president does someone will fault him for it. Best to do nothing and concentrate on more substantive matters that need his attention.

    November 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  16. crashdummy38

    No campaigning needed here. He has tried to rewrite enough history, leave gettysburg alone please .

    November 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  17. TheSadTruth

    "Critics will assail" Obama for drawing breath. No president has received such constant harassment and obstruction for purely partisan reasons- the GOP has no shame.
    The rich white men that have taken this country to the brink made it possible for a man of color to actually become president. Obama's election TWICE is a tribute to what Lincoln accomplished, and NO the Republicans of today bear no resemblance to those of Lincoln's day.

    November 18, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  18. Sharky

    Smart move. He didn't want to be upstaged by Lincoln who is not even alive.

    November 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  19. Truth Police

    What a joke this guy is.

    November 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  20. Al

    It's called fear, no one that has any principle wants to go see a liar. And how sad is it that many people will go pour 20,000 or more for a plate to go see a liar, I guess those people have no morality.

    November 18, 2013 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  21. Sharky

    @jeckhard–

    Like his golf swing.

    November 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  22. Michael

    That argument that not going prevents him from stealing the spotlight is silly. The media spotlight he would have brought with him would have far outshone any media spotlight that Address will have without the president's attendance, so that even if he stole some of that spotlight it still would have cast a much larger light on the event than it would have otherwise.

    I think he's just shying away from the spotlight himself given his low poll numbers due to his recent failures.

    November 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  23. DZenn

    My guess is that he has a round of golf scheduled on that day...

    November 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  24. ravgames

    "Yeah, yeah, Lincoln, whatever. Now watch this drive."

    November 18, 2013 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  25. Malory Archer

    Fair is Fair

    Ahhhh... nothing like an Ann Romney story to get the trolls foaming at the mouth to start the week. What next? Sarah Palin? Ted Cruz?

    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Right, because if this were a story about the spouse of a two time loser DEM your ilk would post nothing but kindness. Hypocritical much?

    November 18, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
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