Obama's no-show at Gettysburg event: Snub, or smart?
November 18th, 2013
12:02 PM ET
10 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. Sammy Z

    Here's a thought, "Who cares?"

    I'd rather he be back at Washington trying to do something about the economy. You know, that thing everyone forgot about when Republicans started talking "Bengazi" and Democrats started saying "Tea-Party =Crazy"

    November 18, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  2. Meki60

    They called him 'honest Abe', how could Obama even come close to an event under whose guidelines.

    November 18, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  3. cfd

    And yet you would all vote for him again

    November 18, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  4. Malory Archer

    Ace

    Either way Republicans would attack him.

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

    As evidenced by the comments posted above your's.

    November 18, 2013 12:27 pm at 12:27 pm |
  5. Larry

    Well, he's had plenty of time to golf and vacation. Guess there's no good vacation spots or golf courses in the vicinity of Gettysburg.

    November 18, 2013 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  6. Malory Archer

    John Janus

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

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

    If Lincoln were alive today he'd be a Dem.

    November 18, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  7. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    , and NO the Republicans of today bear no resemblance to those of Lincoln's day.
    -------------------------------------------------
    Heck, they bear no resemblance to Republicans in Reagan's or even Bush Sr's day.
    Good post btw.

    November 18, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  8. Mary

    He is the master of bad moves

    November 18, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  9. Tim

    The most unfortunate part of this is a further demonstration of a pattern of behavior we have grown accustom. It seems he is never around when he should be and everywhere when it does not really matter. Lincoln's words would resonate with or without him...perhaps more clearly with or without him. That depends upon the listener.

    November 18, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  10. Mart

    "unspeakable in its audacity" did he seriously mean that when he wrote it because he should go back and check what the word means

    November 18, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  11. O'drama ya Mama

    Love all the Confederate flag waving Tea Nuts that are criticizing the President on this one.

    November 18, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    More wasted ink.
    Glad he "stood you up".
    If he travels the screaming memees berate him thre expense of gas and his security. They would say that there are important things he should be doing in his jailhouse,er, White House.
    If he stays home he's being insolent and "uppitty".
    Screw the lot of you.
    Glad he snubbed ya.

    November 18, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  13. Kris in AL

    The President could attend an offer his observations on the progress of the country SINCE the Gettysburg Address.

    I'm actually surprised President Obama did not want to / plan to attend. Perfect opportunity for him to speak not of himself, but of our successes and challenges.....and to FURTHER motivate Americans to reach higher and work harder on improving our Union.

    November 18, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  14. The Real Tom Paine

    Its actually pretty amusing seeing the level of juvenile comments because Obama won't be attending this event. Of course, had he attended it, we would be hearing about how he was taking another vacation, not doing his job and how he's a divider, not a uniter: oh, wait a minute, the usual crop of intellectual juveniles said it anyway? Well, I guess it take a true conservative like Donna to once again stick to the approved rightie baby brain food: hey, just saying.

    November 18, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  15. just asking

    seriously??? he can't find time to attend a hugely significant historic event and memorial? wow... what total disrespect for our history.

    so just what is he doing instead? laundry? walking the dog? why are they refusing to release his schedule?

    November 18, 2013 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    "critics have since assailed Obama for skipping the event."

    Whatevs. They assail him no matter what he does. He could go to the thing and would be criticized for doing that. As it is, that PA newspaper published its backhanded retraction of its long-ago criticism of the Gettysburg Address, turning it into an opportunity to regurgitate that silly canard about Lincoln's critics and the slavery supporters all being Dems back then, as if that has anything to do with the composition of the parties today. I take that as a sign he is being smart to avoid giving people like that another opportunity to throw poop at him. They're going to do it no matter what, so he might as well not stand in front of it, especially if it will distract from the meaning of the event. The GOP/Teatrolls on here pretending that they wouldn't have been yammering about "another photo-op" and "vacation" and "pandering to minorities" etc. and trying desperately to turn it into a racially and politically divisive appearance are liars.

    November 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  17. RocketJL

    I really wish Obama would go and speak at Gettysburg. Every black person in the South owes their freedom to all the white soldiers that gave their lives to free them.

    November 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  18. rs

    John Janus

    Why would anyone be surprised that he isn't interested in attending an event that celebrates the successes of a Republican President ?
    ___________________________
    Well, aside from TR and Eisenhower, how many good ones have there been since?

    November 18, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  19. Anonymous

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

    Kinda sad that you have to go back that far to find a Republican President with enough "successes" to celebrate.

    November 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  20. Sniffit

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

    Because, boy genius, he himself celebrates Lincoln all the time and greatly admits the man...READ THE ARTICLE.

    November 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  21. Rudy NYC

    How can the Confederacy-loving RINOs of today find the gall to compare themselves to an Abolitionist like Lincoln? IOKIYAR.

    November 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  22. O'drama ya Mama

    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 |
    _______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Yea Donna, Democrats want us to forget their history just like Republicans want us to forget about Nixon, Iran CONTRA, 9/11,etc.

    November 18, 2013 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  23. BDC

    Well this is a mighty *facepalm* for the media; we're lucky to get a president at any sort of ceremony, considering the other responsibilities they have.

    November 18, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  24. Frank

    The negative comments here are truly obnoxious. Nobody would have been more proud of the fact that our current duly elected President (succeeding in many areas despite historic Congressional opposition) is half black than Abraham Lincoln. Generalizations about progressive liberals, nonsense about not honoring the Republican party (actually the northern Union liberals and abolitionists in 1860) is idiotic and the kind of things only fools utter. President is hardly re-writing American history and understands it better than some of the posters here.

    November 18, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  25. rs

    Maybe the President didn't want to give the Right an excuse to eviscerate the National Park Service for him showing up.

    November 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
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