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. KAT

    "Bad move?" --- NO!

    November 18, 2013 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  2. anon

    Lincoln wasn't pro or anti slavery. That's a fact. He didn't care about the issue until it because politically beneficial. Learn some real history and not that government common core crap.

    November 18, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  3. Mike C

    Obama basically thinks that he didn't need Lincoln to be president. So why give him any credit.

    November 18, 2013 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  4. Rich


    November 18, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  5. Spirit of America

    Obama should be banned from Gettysburg; after all, he (along with Bush and most of his POTUS predecessors) were instrumental in making sure that "government of, for and by the people" would and did perish from the earth.

    November 18, 2013 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  6. Corim

    Of course it is a snub. Par for the course, but it is a major snub. It's been a while since Obama has done anything classy.

    November 18, 2013 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  7. andy

    A rookie move. What else would one expect.

    November 18, 2013 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  8. Steven

    Headline: Pres. Obama says today's Monday. Repubs outraged, say "no, it's a lie".

    November 18, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  9. meki60

    Obama can't afford to get the 'honest Abe' location. He would be sucked into the anti-honest blackhole

    November 18, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  10. callinfiresupport

    what was Obama's quote...oh ya, "that could have been me"......hilarious

    November 18, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  11. Richard Right

    The focus of the event would have been the words of Lincoln and O didn't want to be #2 at the event.

    November 18, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  12. Brett

    And just how many of you people would have even known the 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address was tomorrow, or would even have cared? Get real. Everyone immediately becomes Captain America whenever Obama does anything they don't like. I'd be amazed if any of you could peel yourselves away from internet message boards to even read his speech, since if it weren't plastered all over the news, you wouldn't even know what "four score and seven years ago" means. Put your tissues down about Obama and lead by example. Tell a child about the Address and what it meant to our country. Be a leader and stop whining about what a leader Obama isn't. He's not going anywhere until 2016 so just suck it up and live with it. Only a little over 2 years until we find out who the next "worst president in history" is.

    November 18, 2013 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
  13. srcactus

    To busy for Gettysburg Has time to write and exemption for Union kickback on Obamacare

    November 18, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  14. superduty

    I predict the President will go into hiding before too long. He hates answering questions and taking responsibility for his actions.

    November 18, 2013 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  15. ah

    It was only a GOP event, with one of those terrorist hostage taking republicans, like Ted Cruz. No need to attend.

    November 18, 2013 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  16. tom

    the man has bigger fish to fry

    November 18, 2013 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  17. cbp

    The actions of a person are far more important than words uttered on an anniversary. There is no mention of the fact that the Republicans turned their backs on the ideas and ideals of Abraham Lincoln.

    It really is time to stop this harping and the constant use of snide rebuttals. How do we ever expect to get along if we continually snipe at one another. It is fair to criticize a choice that he president or any other public person or reader who writes a statement on Soundoff. It is not necessary to insult them as well. Make your point and leave it at that.

    November 18, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  18. BillC

    We are not re-living history... We are moving on! Can someone tell me the significance of going to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg ADDRESS?

    November 18, 2013 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  19. Hank

    He can't get beyond the fact that both confederates and union soliders died there. In his immature myopic point of view, that kind of history is not worth remembering. Who cares. No one will miss him anyway. Plus if he did go, he'd probably try to figure out a way to start a new civil war anyway so it's best he stay away.

    November 18, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  20. Yawn

    Really? This is news? And if he had gone, he would be criticized for politicizing a somber remembrance of a terrible battle and trying to profit from history, or some such thing. More business as usual in a country that loves to discuss absolutely anything, just so long as it isn't important.

    November 18, 2013 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  21. deee510

    Boy our handsome president has some serious haters. Lol. Anyway I love Obama and his family and I think hes doing a wonderful job.God bless him.

    November 18, 2013 08:20 pm at 8:20 pm |
  22. dougr

    Obama's use of the Lincoln bible during his oath of office desecrated a National Icon

    November 18, 2013 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  23. Jean Sartre

    The TP/GOP are against everything the Gettysburg Address states and stands for, and yet they just whine and whine and whine...

    November 18, 2013 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  24. davecu

    Perhaps he'll be doing the work he should have done 4 years ago when he started to intentionally lie to the American public about where he was going to tax us again in the name of healthcare.
    What part is 'affordable' in the "Affordable Care Act"?
    And to whom?
    Not to what WAS the middle class.

    November 18, 2013 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  25. Circus Circus

    Obama had something more important to do....meetings with Israel and Zionist minions.

    November 18, 2013 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
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