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. Ace

    We know which side at Gettysburg the Tea Party was rooting for.

    November 18, 2013 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  2. Rudy NYC


    Smart move. He didn't want to be upstaged by Lincoln who is not even alive.
    This is how lies get out. The administration never said that. It was a plausible reason that was suggested by a history professor at Boston College

    November 18, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  3. Crampon

    He's got bigger problems, the unaffordable care act deadline is near, and it's not going to be working. Plus he probably knows he'll be booed off the stage.

    November 18, 2013 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  4. pecapecapa

    Maybe he's just got more important stuff to that day. Like running the country.

    November 18, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  5. Charles

    terrible move...

    November 18, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  6. Carl

    Golf, of course.

    November 18, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  7. JJ

    If Obama attended the Gettysburg event GOP critics would be wailing that he was attempting to overshadow Lincoln.

    November 18, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  8. jdooley7

    '"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."

    It would only be about Obama if Obama makes it about Obama. Go, make a speech remembering why we fought this horrific war & why we're a better nation because of the result. If he can somehow not interject himself into the narrative that's the key. There are other completely acceptable examples other than himself he can use in a speech.

    November 18, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  9. Anna

    It actually wasn't a very important EVENT. They are celebrating the speech, not the event. In fact, the actual speech wasn't that well attended on the day it happened and wasn't viewed as important until much later. So, maybe get over yourselves?

    November 18, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  10. The REAL Truth...

    @John – Leave politics aside the President should be present, and by no means needs to speak if he is worried about overshadowing the event.
    I agree, but the problem is that the GOP and TP's will assail him whether he goes or not. The do-nothing Party has stalked, baited, trashed, filibustered, blocked and been utterly pathetic in regards to this POTUS. From manufactured scandals to Fux Noise propaganda, to rabid rw talk radio's constant attacks on the POTUS (yet the clue-less rabble soak it up believing HE is the divisive one) intelligent folks are asking when they plan on doing something FOR (not against) the country!

    November 18, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  11. Guest

    he has never shown any love for this country,

    November 18, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  12. McBob79

    Nothing has been smart about Mr. Obama's presidency. It's really been disastrous and those who need help the most, who claim to be represented by his party are the ones being hurt the most. It's never good to be a low information person, much less voter.

    November 18, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  13. mike Lake Orion Michigan

    Who gives a crap where this guy goes! Better for everyone if he would just stay on the golf course!

    November 18, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  14. Silence DoGood

    Like the old joke "the food was terrible......and such small portions".
    TeaParty folks made it clear they want Obama to fail. No policy, no politics, no reasoning. So it is no surprise their take on everything he does is "It is terrible the he either did or didn't do something." Obama could come out tomorrow supporting no taxes at all, Creationism, and admitting he has no birth certificate and they would accuse him of pandering.

    November 18, 2013 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  15. Big H

    Another disappointment and failure. In addition to Gettysburg, President Obama skipped addressing the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree in 2010 and 2013. Obama is the first sitting U.S. President to do so. He sets a very poor example as POTUS.

    November 18, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  16. Lisa P.

    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
    Maybe because you've got our President figured all wrong. Perhaps you should skip the Gettysburg address and go read Lincoln's second inaugural address instead. You need to lose the malice, big time. Charity works far better and is a heck of a lot less stressful as well.

    November 18, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  17. FoolKiller

    If I were Obama, I would certainly avoid any place that Lincoln’s ghost might frequent…

    November 18, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  18. Phattee

    "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.

    Ms. Richardson is correct. The past 5 years have shown us that the far right will hammer Obama for anything he does.

    November 18, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  19. TheOpinionatedOne

    President Obama has always said that he was a fan of Abraham Lincoln. What better way to honor President Lincoln than by appearing at the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. All goes to prove that talk is cheap, and Mr. Obama is a hypocrite.

    November 18, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  20. drlong

    Wow. If you look on Faux News this doesn't even come up. Those saying, "darned if he does, darned if he doesn't" really have got to come to grips that this event is beyond political pandering. Tens of thousands lost their lives in that battle and for a president that has used the image and history of Lincoln to the extent our POTUS has just reads volumes on the non-attendance.

    Our POTUS could show up and resist the effort to make him the central focus of the event. THAT would certainly earn him points. But hey, it's not about that. It's about honoring those that died in a field outside a small Pennsylvania town...

    November 18, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  21. Marcia

    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.____________________________________________________________________________________________Dionna does n NOT know her history-Lincoln's mere election divided the country and he led the country in a war against the South-Like Obama Lincoln was called terrible names, Like Obama he constantly offered to work with those against him-Like the South during the Civil War -the Tparty waves the confereate flag and triys to divide the country wanting perhaps to seceed-Like Lincoln I believe Obama will be remembered as a great President working in a time of pure hate and animosity againat him-Seriously Donna Lincoln would NOT belong to the tea party or be a Republican today

    November 18, 2013 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  22. Realistic

    I'd rather have the average Obama than another oil war with a right winger. Thats why the tea party is so angry at Obama because he didn't continue their neo-con rampage on the Middle East by attacking Iran. If Romney were president, we would already be inside Iran in a ground war slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Did you know that over a half million civilians were killed in Iraq? How does an administration get away with that???? Thats why I will never vote for a republican again.

    November 18, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  23. JC

    Bad move.....Mr. President, you need good press....unite the country with a great speech reminding what we have sacrificed to get where we are.....don't reference today (the "bi-partisan message will get through) just honor the past, make it about anything except today....unite the country, be perceived as a Uniter not a Divider which is where your numbers are heading.....Great Presidents unite ALL citizens, not supporters...we seem to have lost sight of that.

    November 18, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  24. TONE

    From my recollection there were black soldiers fighting also. So what are you talking about.

    November 18, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  25. sonic10158

    To the democrats- "it is a smart move because yada, yada, yada"
    To the gopers- "it is a snub move because yada, yada, yada"

    Just flip the group name and you will have the answers if Bush were president

    November 18, 2013 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
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