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

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"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. PED

    I don't care what anybody thinks, if our president had a pair, he would show up as it was Lincoln's work that started the whole equality way of life for blacks...it may have taken them til now to achieve it, but it started way back then...

    November 18, 2013 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  2. tinkansas

    If Obama goes to Gettysburg the GOP will hate him... if Obama does not go to Gettysburg the GOP will hate him.

    November 18, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  3. Tom

    Considering Obama is part African American, and allot of those people at Gettysburg fought and died to free the African American slaves he could of showed up.

    November 18, 2013 10:50 pm at 10:50 pm |
  4. BTG

    Why is anyone surprised? This lying hypocrit only wants to divide and conquer.

    November 18, 2013 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  5. Iamnotfooled

    Hey you guys are all about freedom of choice. Well I guess that goes for President Obama too. It is his choice.

    November 18, 2013 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  6. THEdebunker

    It doesn't matter if he went or not, he will still be criticize.

    November 18, 2013 11:13 pm at 11:13 pm |
  7. Dan

    If Obama went to Gettysburg, Fox News (and their friends) would condemn him. If Obama does not go, Fox News would condem him. According to Fox, Obama can not tie his shoes correctly. How pathetically sad that they spread their hate across the US on a daily basis. They lie every day. And their viewers are simply ignorant.

    November 19, 2013 03:40 am at 3:40 am |
  8. Shan

    What some people won't do to make excuses for this particular president..... Right.... I'm sure he didn't want to make it about him. I'm thinking, for the first time, he didn't want to appear to be a hypocrite. Imagine attending an event for a president who, literally, died in order to stop divisiveness in America ... when ... you're the president who gets up every single morning planning to cause more divisiveness. Rules for Radicals, right?

    November 19, 2013 05:57 am at 5:57 am |
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