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.

[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker'] [twitter-follow screen_name='KilloughCNN']

"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. cedar rapids

    'Big H
    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.'

    Not true. Bush Snr was the first president to start going to give a presentation, and although he was not there personally, Obama did give a video address in 2010.

    November 18, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  2. rs


    all these Obama apologists. When Obama shows up at a 9/11, Pearl Harbor or Vietnam ceremony it's never about him.

    My guess is if this ceremony were held in more friendly liberal grounds he'd be there.

    In the end, who cares. Get back to work and find a way to rid us of that terrible health care program.
    If there are events about a date in history, how can it be about the President... unless of course you're thinking about things like "Mission Accomplished" eh? Meanwhile what about the greater good of getting more Americans health insurance? Or, is it all about YOU?

    November 18, 2013 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  3. Faux Scandals

    If Obama skipped breakfast it would make the GOPers mad.

    November 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  4. spence

    And after all we have Lincoln to thank for helping to make it possible to have Obama to be in the White House. Yeah, maybe Lincoln's legacy needs to be reassessed...

    November 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  5. Al-NY,NY


    It appears by the comments that Liberals do not know their history. Lincoln was the first Republican president. The freeing of slaves went down party lines with Republcans voting for and Democrates voting against, over and over again.

    yes, we know that he was the first Republican President. However, the parties have swapped places in issue stances. The Democrats are more like Lincoln's GOP and the current GOP like the old Dems.

    November 18, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  6. Malory Archer

    It appears by yon's comments that he knows nothing of American history. The political parties in question have done a complete 180 in their ideologies since the time of President Lincoln. Those who were dems became rethugs when the dem party "left them" and voted FOR civil rights, and vice versa.

    November 18, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  7. Lisa P.


    Polar Bear

    Pretending he was a Lincoln-phile was just a ruse, a game, a fa├žade, to get elected. Now that he's settled into his true socialist "dear ruler" self
    It's funny how you guys on the Right keep calling the President "Dear Ruler" and "exhalted one" and so on. Odd fixation don'tcha think?
    November 18, 2013 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm
    I think they have President Obama confused with Governor Perry. Or Rand Paul. Or Rush Limbaugh. It is odd - none of those people look at all alike.

    November 18, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  8. john mccormick

    He doesn't know about the event and his staff hasn't told him.

    November 18, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  9. Tony Z

    Let the words of the Gettysburg address stand by themselves. All men are still not equal. The Union is still divided ask the folks raising the Confederate flag. We are still not a government for the people.

    He may not attend, but does that mean he stopped fighting to make those words true. Why not pass immigration reform on 11/19? Or the ABLE act? A House divided will not stand- lets unite first to remember the Gettysburg address.

    November 18, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  10. Micheal

    So a writer for a Pennsylvania paper who also writes for The Weekly Standard, works for the Heritage Foundation, and has previously worked on the Rick Santorum campaign is criticizing Obama for not showing up. What a shocker.

    November 18, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  11. cedar rapids

    It appears by the comments that Liberals do not know their history. Lincoln was the first Republican president. The freeing of slaves went down party lines with Republcans voting for and Democrates voting against, over and over again.'

    It appears you need to learn you own history if you think the democrats of that time were the liberals and the republicans the conservatives.

    November 18, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  12. Malory Archer


    The only reason why Obama isn't a slave right now is because of all of those Union soldiers who had their lives cut short by grape shot, or musket shot or cannon ball, and he can't make some time to honor those people?


    Yeah, except his mom was caucasion, and his dad's direct ancestors weren't kidnapped and brought to America against their will, and in fact, his dad didn't move to the states until his college years. Can you say equivalence fail?

    November 18, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  13. midas360

    Obama is just incompetent. It's that simple. Every day is one step closure to him being forever in American politics.

    November 18, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  14. julnor

    I don't care whether or not Obama speaks at Gettysburg, but given the problems he's had of late you'd think he'd jump at the opportunity to do what he does best: give a speech.

    November 18, 2013 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  15. Would You Look at That

    rs said: "You could make the same ascertain today about the GOP- who is working to take the right to vote away from Black Americans in GOP-controlled states? Which party like to parade around under the Confederate flag?"
    - both of your assertions are patently false... Voter ID laws do nothing to prohibit African-Americans (or any other minority group, for that matter) from voting. And, last time I checked, Kanye West (an African-American), a staunch Obama supporter, started a clothing line derived from confederate flag... try again.

    November 18, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  16. mannycl

    He didn't know. Nobody told him.

    November 18, 2013 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  17. Marcus (from...?)

    To RocketJL – There were black soldiers on both sides of the fight, and if you want to watch a movie about it there's 'Glory' with Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman.

    November 18, 2013 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  18. Thomas

    It's so funny how the paid neocon right wing tea wing nuts only post on this blog during the week , Monday through Friday .

    The amount of money the right wing industry spends on disinformation and contempt is plentiful !

    Wheres the JOBS , Benghazi Benghazi , Wheres the Jobs , Death Panels for Grandma Benghazi Benghazi , Wheres the Jobs .

    November 18, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  19. yo!

    He can't make it because he has a headache the size of Obamacare.

    November 18, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  20. joesmith

    isn't it curious, how cnn uses the American people in the news makers that will cause continual division among us..but will NOT permit us to comment via this forum, on the big issues, like health care, spending, term limits, etc..once upon a time, the press, media were OUR watchdogs..now we hardly get a bone tossed our way..

    November 18, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  21. sly

    President Obama has a lot in common with President Lincoln. Both were rare humanitarian Presidents who cared about ending federal discrimination.

    Those who have studied history know that President Lincoln was extremely unpopular at the time, and people thought his idea of eliminating Slavery was a bad idea.

    Sounds like Affordable Health Care – which everyone knows historians will look back on as a major accomplishment: Providing health care to 50 million US Military Veterans and others with pre-existing conditions that allows Big Insurance to lock them out.

    November 18, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  22. Browns Fan42

    When Obama recently read the Gettysburg Address (for the first time), he saw Lincoln's words about government of the people, for the people, and by the people shall not perish from he earth" and thought to himself....."wow, what a load of crap THAT is".

    November 18, 2013 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  23. Curtis

    Grizzly bear

    November 18, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  24. Joe Hates Government

    Hes a loser, and we don't want him in PA. Glad he's not coming up here after his smug remark during his first campaign, where the mo tons and dolts voted this clown into office.

    November 18, 2013 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  25. Ruth

    Shameful on his part.....he has his own agenda...it is and always has been about him......if you think he cares about Americans ,think again

    November 18, 2013 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13