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. TommytheT

    smart or snub?

    No chicken. It is his MO...make a speech over at a tough time and then run and hide.

    November 18, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  2. Catherine Howe

    Are you kidding me...?!

    '"By not going, President Obama lets that speech stand on its own. If he went, it would all be about him," she [Heather Cox Richardson] said...'

    Obama's not going because it WOULDN'T be all about him. Otherwise, nothing in this world could/should have kept him from honoring such a great man and such a heartfelt and all-important speech.

    November 18, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  3. Thomas Nichols

    Since many people remember a sitting president from actions in his second term, we can rest assured this president will be known as "The Mistaken", because that's all he's consistent in doing...making mistakes.

    November 18, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  4. skyatimus

    There is no question that the presence of President Obama, an African American man, would overshadow the sacred words of the Address and the great man who penned and spoke them. The focus is to remain on the words of the Address, not on the presence of a man who, for any reason whatsoever, will be pilloried by the stokers of hatred on Fox News later that night. Why mix that narrative of hatred, animosity and division up with the consoling and magnanimous words commending those who so nobly advanced the cause of freedom and equality. Once again, President Obama sees the much larger picture. Not unlike Mr. Lincoln himself.

    November 18, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  5. lincoln was a killer pos

    Nothing special about Gettysburg to the south who won the war and its aftermath. Lincoln was a marxist killer. Thank you native Marylander Mr JW Booth.

    November 18, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  6. moderateGuy

    Good, the presence of that most anti-American president, would be an insult to the memory of Lincoln and those who fought and died at Gettysburg.

    November 18, 2013 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  7. diamonddaisy

    It doesn't really matter if Obama goes or not. No matter what he does, he will be criticized for doing it or not doing it. The man can't win nowadays, no matter what.

    November 18, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  8. FrmrMrine

    lets face it, whether he attended or not he'd be crucified either way. If he went, he'd be playing the race card. By not going, he's not American enough.

    November 18, 2013 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  9. Ron -IN

    Its funny I wrote a comment earlier explaining how todays United States is so far removed from the spirit of the Gettysburg Address and CNN censored it. They will print irrational dislike, distrust, dumb statements, but they don't like to print the things that will make Americans REALLY think about things rationally. Our news media has become a weak link in our democracy...SAD..so SAD

    November 18, 2013 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  10. Anonymous

    he should skip the next 2 years

    November 18, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  11. mike

    What can you expect out of this president? This is an important date in the history of this country. So he'll be elsewhere.

    November 18, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  12. Hman360

    You would think the first African American president of the United States would have a little more respect for a man like Pres. Lincoln.

    November 18, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  13. Aaron Poscovsky

    President Obama is above us, and we fail to see that he doesn't have time to remember the past, just wants what he can do to this country!

    November 18, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  14. northerstar

    Considering he thought so much of Lincoln to use his bible for his swearing in, it is unforgivable he would show up for the 150th anniversary of the speech (149th anniversary, not such a big deal). His staff is letting him down big time when it comes to aiding his presidency.

    November 18, 2013 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  15. Pppa

    Obama's next book: "The Audacity of Hype"...

    November 18, 2013 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  16. gstlab3

    I bet it is because he is smart enough to know a little bit of history and will never dare set foot on that hallowed ground.,

    The war of northern agression will be avenged.

    November 18, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  17. Darryl Miller

    Why we so hate being posted, we are lacking understanding an tolerance. THe apple does not fall too far from the tree.. I see this is a society problem not a racial one we are all lacking... I will say a prayer for us a nation to come together.....

    November 18, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  18. gstlab3

    censorship of the free exchange of viewers ideas and opinions is what I most often see happening on these troll laiden cnn comment boards.

    November 18, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  19. Sue Pearlative

    I can see how the folks at Gettysburg would want him to come, but if he did, it would be an Obama event. Maybe it's better to address it from the White House, and then visit Gettysburg at another time.

    November 18, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  20. gstlab3

    cnn hates my opinions and my facts.

    November 18, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  21. dave the butcher

    It doesn't matter if he shows up or not, same people will cry and whine about him.

    November 18, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  22. AJB

    I think it only appropriate that he not be present at Gettysburg on the 150 th anniversary of Lincoln's address. The inevitable comparisons of Lincoln, one of this nation's greatest leaders and an icon of personal integrity, when so directly apposed to the the current White House occupant demands that he stay as far away as possible.

    November 18, 2013 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  23. mindstorms1

    The same people making negative comments about President Obama would be making them if he did show up for the ceremony. They would be saying he is only there for political reasons. We know you hate the fact that he is black and president so it really doesn't matter what he does.

    November 18, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  24. shorething

    Obama is a jerk. He hates helping, and hates to admit being wrong. Obama is a failure as a president a leader, a failure to show respect to anyone else, and most importantly a failure as a human being!

    November 18, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  25. 4URPOST

    actions are worth a thousand words...

    November 18, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
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