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. Den-O

    He must be scheduled to be on The View that day. Way more important !

    November 18, 2013 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  2. petroskies

    some people think the president was tire from his own lies and feel very uncomfortable with himself .

    November 18, 2013 08:44 pm at 8:44 pm |
  3. gonzodon

    Maybe the man who once had delusions that he was like Lincoln has finally realized that he is at the other end of the list; that is, the worst president in the history of this country.

    November 18, 2013 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  4. Fedupwithhim

    Four score and seven percentage points approval ago.......

    November 18, 2013 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  5. cordy

    He's just recharging his battery for the next "grand deception".

    November 18, 2013 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  6. Bill

    The Republicans of today are in no way shape or form a Lincoln republicans, the parties are reversed in present day.

    November 18, 2013 08:49 pm at 8:49 pm |
  7. wrm

    Who cares?

    November 18, 2013 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  8. Jim Steele

    . . .and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    No, Obama is one of many politicians who have degraded our liberties, our country and the memories of those who have fought and served.

    November 18, 2013 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  9. Jimbo

    Another stupid move by a clueless president

    November 18, 2013 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  10. dwileyone

    Damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. If President Obama showed up and the event turned into a media circus (as we all know it would), he would be vilified for that, too.

    November 18, 2013 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  11. PoliticiansRCrooks

    He doesn't need to get reelected anymore so of course he wont do anything patriotic unless his poll numbers slip to single digits.

    November 18, 2013 09:08 pm at 9:08 pm |
  12. G_Edwards

    You'd think he'd go just to try to get the 7600+ citizens to sign up for Obamacare.


    November 18, 2013 09:13 pm at 9:13 pm |
  13. Scott

    Is not the fact that anyone can ask "Sumg, or Smart?" about a sitting US President 'skipping' a sesquicentennial commemoration of one of America's most historic moments enough evidence that millions of Americans live in a complete state of delusion? What will it take for you to see what they have done to your thinking?

    November 18, 2013 09:14 pm at 9:14 pm |
  14. Hawkeye07

    Owhinney is no Lincoln – and we know it – so why pretend – the nation during the civil war had a leader – we have a lying community organizer....

    November 18, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  15. Ianf

    Wow. A columnist from a conservative rag rips Obama for not doing something? What an amazing turn of events. Had he decided to go, she would have spoken (written) out of the other side of her mouth how Obama made the day all about him. Political hacks.

    November 18, 2013 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  16. dudley

    We had to memorize the address in 4th grade. The opening sentence is one of the most moving ever uttered.

    November 18, 2013 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
  17. RS

    About 10-12 years ago, the TV show "Outer Limits" ran an episode about a black President who went to Gettysburg on the 150th anniverary of the Gettysburg Address and was assassinated. Maybe the Secret Service were afraid of life immitating art.

    November 18, 2013 09:25 pm at 9:25 pm |
  18. Chuwi

    True Colors

    November 18, 2013 09:30 pm at 9:30 pm |
  19. Tula

    He doesn't act like an American, he doesn't lead like an American President - he's just a big mistake for the American people, antagonistic, constantly blaming Americans and doing everything in his power to create pain and chaos.

    November 18, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  20. Firedup49

    Real men honor those who sacrificed their lives for their freedoms, only to be snubbed by a persons own selfish purposes.

    November 18, 2013 09:37 pm at 9:37 pm |
  21. J

    Who cares?

    November 18, 2013 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  22. aspiring to inspire

    Mr. Obama finds himself in the middle of an unarmed and unfought civil war currently. He however stands opposed to president Lincoln's ideal. Mr Obama unfortunately will never really stand for the people. They are too incompetent.

    November 18, 2013 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  23. 456789

    It would be some professor to muse on "how smart it is that he's not going." Please, if that were even remotely true, Jay Carney would have probably gladly said that rather than, "uhh, schedule...hasn't...uh, changed..I don't know anything..derp." But really Lincoln's name and legacy is only worthy of honor while Obama's campaigning, so now that he's in his second term there's no need to be bothered with such trifles is there?

    November 18, 2013 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  24. SciGuy

    Lincoln's Gettysburg address is fiction. Read it. He claims that the North is fighting for govt of, by, for the people. Well, actually, no, that is what the South was fighting for. Lincoln was fighting to subjugate the South and deny them their inherent right to choose their govt. So why do you all admire the speech?

    November 18, 2013 10:00 pm at 10:00 pm |
  25. rhondajo3

    How could this possibly be smart? The only people who think he is smart are all of the Socialists, Marxists and Communists...

    November 18, 2013 10:26 pm at 10:26 pm |
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