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

    To TheSadTruth: Each president has supporters who echo the very words you use. Bush had his supporters who felt as you do, Jimmy Carter too. We are always more sensitive to what happens to those we support and find reason why those we do not support deserved our poor treatment. Those who had stones thrown at them while Bush was in office now throw those same stones back. Is that a surprise?

    November 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  2. Government Waste Rules

    Why would the President miss an opportunity to stir up racial anger? Gettysburg would be an excellent opportunity for him!

    November 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    I bet if someone ran out of rubbers he'd be there to speak. Plus Lincoln was a Republican he can't have anything nice to say about that.

    November 18, 2013 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  4. GEORGE HAMILTON

    Thank you Mr. President for not going. Just shows your arrogance, your partisan ego, and your disrespect for not honoring the President who did more things in his term then you ever will do. At least we do not have to listen to you ramble on about how we all work together as Americans and put politics aside (of course the WE is the all the rest of us not you. Sending a third stringer to represent you is the ultimate insult. Where the Hell is the VP or Sec of State ? Oh yea, they are too busy too. SHAME ON YOU, ALL OF YOU. Illinois will remember you for this. Land of Lincoln we will always be, land of Obama we will never be.

    November 18, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  5. jamesmadison

    Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

    November 18, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  6. scootfl78

    If Obama showed up, the racist conservatives (which by the policies they believe in, is pretty much all conservatives) would throw a tantrum. Sarah Palin would be saying that Obama had no business there and was only playing "politics". When Obama DOESN'T show up, the racist conservatives (which again is pretty much all conservatives) would still throw a tantrum and say that Obama doesn't care about America. So its not a snub on President Obama's part, but rather acknowledging the Republicans will call him out no matter what he does simply because he's an African-American Democratic President who doesn't follow their orders (unless he caves in...which is most of the time...they will still hate him for that too).

    November 18, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  7. John

    If he was asked to attend then he should have gone. 150 year anniversaries for important events in the history of the US should be attended by the sitting presidents if at all possible. Leave politics aside the President should be present, and by no means needs to speak if he is worried about overshadowing the event.

    November 18, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  8. Sniffit

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

    Concealment? That's a quote of someone asking Carney 20 days ago and all he said is he didn't have the details of the POTUS's schedule. And yet you read some sort of conspiracy into it that is "exposed" by Carney essentially indicating that he didn't have details of the POTUS's schedule for 20-some-odd days in the future? You're pathetic. Seriously...an angry, addle-pated, delusional, whackadoo who must be extremely miserable at almost all times for you to feel justified and righteous acting like such an epic twerp.

    November 18, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  9. Brian Hartman

    I'm not surprised CNN found a person willing to say that it was a smart move. That just shows how hard they try to bolster him. It's obviously a horrible move.

    It's true that some people would criticize him for going, but the question has to be whether or not the criticism is valid. in this case, it's demonstrably invalid.

    There have been 43 presidents of the United States. Lincoln was the 16th of these. That means that of the remaining 27 after Lincoln, only three others, including Obama, have skipped the event. i.e., it's very unusual for a president to decide not to go. One of these was Kennedy, who went to Dallas that day.

    November 18, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  10. Jack

    No matter what he does, there is a certain group that a going to complain. Childish people!

    November 18, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  11. Robert N. constant

    The only people who will criticize the President for skipping Gettysburg are the same people who would criticize if he attended. In that case they would say that he should be attending to the current problems of the Nation.
    The Republican Party and The Tea Party, in particular have learned that if you throw enough mud some of it sticks, so rather than seeking compromises that will result in solutions, they attack the President. If no current reason presents itself, they simply manufacture one. It is called "gutter politics."

    November 18, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  12. Greg In Arkansas

    " critics have since assailed Obama for"..........EVERYTHING.....!!!

    November 18, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  13. Bobbyvv

    Really scoot, they're all racist huh? As for them hating him, I guess I forgot how much the D's loved GWB. Why don't you go back and look at some of the 'nice' things they said about him. Funny how generalizations are ok coming from one side but not the other.

    November 18, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  14. rs

    Pathertic. The GOP now parades around under the flag of the Confederacy, and disenfranchises Black voters, but whines about suppossed "disrespect" for Lincoln.

    November 18, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  15. case

    You people. Do any of you even realize Lincoln's Republican party is much more like the modern Democrat party and not the GOP.

    November 18, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  16. snorris

    Obama is golfing that day. The man is never too busy for that.

    November 18, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  17. Malory Archer

    Tim

    To TheSadTruth: Each president has supporters who echo the very words you use. Bush had his supporters who felt as you do, Jimmy Carter too. We are always more sensitive to what happens to those we support and find reason why those we do not support deserved our poor treatment. Those who had stones thrown at them while Bush was in office now throw those same stones back. Is that a surprise?

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

    Your comment might have merit if not for the fact that the previous occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue had approval ratings in the high 90s following 9/11 whereas his/your party made it their mission from the day President Obama was elected to ensure that his presidency was a failure and have done everything in their power – INCLUDING VETOING THEIR OWN LEGISLATION WHEN HE AGREES WITH THEM – to make it so.

    November 18, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    "It's true that some people would criticize him for going, but the question has to be whether or not the criticism is valid. in this case, it's demonstrably invalid. "

    Invalid or not, it will be the loudest part of any reporting on it (or anything else), because the MSM is not concerned with providing objective, realistic accountings of events and issues. Rather, it wants there to be as much nontroversy as possible. If Obama attended this thing, nothing Obama or reasonable people could possibly do would have drowned out that the MSM was reporting on nothing but the negative crap coming out of the GOP/Teatrolls' mouths. Nothing. It would be another opportunity for a trumped-up scandal over nothing and would sully the entire event's meaning and solemnity. He's refusing to give the GOP/Teatroll/MSM symbiote what it wants, so they'll make him pay for it by trashing him for not going, but he's doing the smart thing by avoiding the bigger negative hullaballoo they would have tried to create out of him going.

    November 18, 2013 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  19. Dan

    Snub. But he is so arrogant he won't get it

    November 18, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  20. PeterD

    President Obama has ordered FEMA to donate $100MM for Typhoon Haiyan Victims and Soamlia Cyclone Victims last week while $ 0 for American Mid West Tonadoes Victims.

    November 18, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  21. Tony

    If Obama goes to Pittsburgh to commemorate the speech, conservatives will accuse him of trying to distract people from his current troubles, Rick McDaniel will accuse him of being a dictator, and tom l. will attack liberals while saying both sides are bad. If Obama does not go, conservatives will accuse him of trying to hide from his current troubles, Rick McDaniel will accuse him of being a dictator, and tom l. will attack liberals while saying both sides are bad. Sometimes, you just can't win.

    November 18, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  22. kylefromohio

    Any body with a little historical facts. Knows the current Republican party is not the Party of Lincoln, but the party of Democrates of 1863 until 1964 voter right movement immgrated them to the Current Republicans

    November 18, 2013 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  23. Thomas

    I can only imagine what Abraham Lincoln would think of some of the posts here , or how divided the country is 150 years later . I'm sure he would respect president Obama for his accomplishments and his defects . He would definitely understand the difficulty in dealing with a do nothing Congress and those with out vision nor equality .

    I also believe in my heart Abraham Lincoln would approve of Affordable Healthcare for the American people , all people !

    Our Civil war was ugly , so was the slavery that proceeded that war . And the sad thing is , there are still people today who judge others by the color of there skin , yet now it's more about economic divide and cast .

    November 18, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  24. Tim

    Lincoln lived in the White House. Obama lives in the White House. He's honoring him every day of the week.

    November 18, 2013 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  25. Stating the Obvious

    Obama is refusing to go for one reason. He does not want comparisons of him, the worse President in our history, to Lincoln, the greatest president in our history.

    November 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
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