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. vinster76

    it must be a scheduling problem, Bill Ayres is probably having an event of some type, and well, you know Obama has his priorities....The USA isn't one of them...............

    November 18, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    Too bad he didn't skip the election too.

    November 18, 2013 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  3. Simon

    Obama thinks more highly of the travesty called obamacare than he does of Lincoln. Shame!!

    November 18, 2013 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  4. Ted Ward

    Obama's fellow traveler parents, uncle Frank, and sixties terror bombing friend, Mr. Ayers, would be very proud of their Marxist protege snubbing this historic opportunity to further bind the nation's wounds and mark the great progress, struggle, and sacrifices this nation has made since and during the time of LIncoln. One wonders if Obama believes at all in the country he is president of, or is he just intentionally just messing things up, like a good Saul Alinsky "community organizer". After all, "the first rule of community organizing", according the Saul Alinsky, "is community dis organizing." Isn't that pretty much what Obama's been doing all along?

    November 18, 2013 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  5. Whatalongstrangetrip

    Obama is a student of history, but his own sense of history might be very different from most Americans. He is a black man, but as his father was Kenyan none of his ancestors were American slaves or went through the American 'Black Experience". He was born and raised in Hawaii less than 2 years from when Hawaii was a territory and again had a completely separate history from mainlanders, both black and white. We would not expect a Frenchman to feel the same way we do about Gettysburg any more than he could expect us to feel the same as he does about Waterloo. One would think that any American president would follow up Lincoln's speech with one of his own on the 150'th anniversary but that may just not be where Obama's feelings lie.

    November 18, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  6. Jon

    Another example of the kind of nonsense the press seems to focus on these days.

    Both they and the right-wing loonies who now control the Repubelican party pay more attention to slogans, "Horserace" stories, and the kind of manufactured media events they are going to have in Gettysburg. One of the reasons the Repubes can fool so many average citizens is that the press concentrates on oversimplified nonsense like this instead of providing more details on issues like health care reform, defense spending, and tax policy.

    November 18, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  7. Roger. R.

    Barack Hussein Obama has no ties with slavery, so why he care? But he is currently fight to ease sanction of Iran. That's what "Barack Husseins" do.

    November 18, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  8. vinster76

    or......it could be he just didn't know the anniversary was coming up till he "read about it in the news", like so many other of his lame excuses for why he absolutely is a disgraceful president. Oh well...in three years I will never have to see his mug on the nightly news, Letterman, Fallon, et al.....anymore.......

    November 18, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  9. Dorothy

    Ok, he has the ACA to worry about, and a natural disaster in Illinois. Although commemorating the past is important, come on, he has work to do.

    November 18, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  10. TomNPitt

    The Tribune Reporter sounds a hypocritical tone in a state that has openly passed legislation to deprive minorities the right to vote in next years election. When the bill was passed a Republican State Representative proclaimed victory for Mitt Romney. This Conservative Newspaper "rag" would throw up a stink if the President were to come, calling him an opportunist. This observation in Gettysburg really rings hollow when you look at where the leaders of the state are trying to take the state. During the Civil War, Pennsylvania lead the North in wanting to free the slaves. Today, the states leadership wants to follow the Southern States lead to take away minority freedoms. Maybe that's why the president isn't coming. This is the same "sacred land" republicans wanted to build a new Casino!! Please!!

    November 18, 2013 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  11. canniwander

    The logic for him not attending, is fairly sound.
    However, this is 'supposed' to be a non-partisan moment in time. Even if the conservative among us try to change the focus, it is up to him to rise above their woefully low standard. He is from the Land of Lincoln, a major fan of Lincoln, and represents the very thing Lincoln was willing to sacrifice so many lives to defend. I can't help but think that he does a disservice by not attending and blaming the motivations of a bunch of uneducated racists piles of garbage (conservatives) is cowardly given the place and time.

    November 18, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  12. jimmy

    Obama on Lincoln's speech..."You didn't write that!"

    November 18, 2013 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  13. The reporter

    That's ok, we don't want him in Pa. He doesn't believe in the 2nd amendment why would he care about Gettysburg.

    November 18, 2013 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  14. Joe M.

    I'm glad he skipped it. He inevitably would have tried to make a speech trying to steal the show, weaving Lincoln's words into his in order to make himself look better.

    November 18, 2013 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  15. Kathy

    I think it's good he's not going. It was "150 years ago". That's history. He's busy.

    November 18, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  16. Fredsdad

    What is wrong with this man? Doesn't he listen to the public or his advisers? Or is he surrounded by idiots that won't tell him when he is wrong?
    With this stupid move and his "crotch salutes" he just keeps digging the hole deeper!
    Gos save America and the presidential position.

    November 18, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  17. George D. Mize

    He is making his own history, which no one will remember

    November 18, 2013 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  18. Truth

    Typical for this bigot.

    November 18, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  19. David

    America was great until he arrived. You could get a job, gas was half price, inflation was under control, our nat'l debt was about half, and we had morals.

    November 18, 2013 04:24 pm at 4:24 pm |
  20. Brernda

    Been to gettysdburg, a rugged field. President Obama has fulfilled his purpose. No one man can do it all. Get over yourselves and for once in your life, tell yourselves the truth.

    November 18, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  21. Dianne

    Yeah. I know this won't make the cut but CNN is becoming more fox-like everyday. All about stirring the pot. Reminds me of the song 'Dirty Laundry.' 'She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye. Its interesting when people die. Give us dirty laundry.' That's all they case about. Jerry Springer style. Pandering to the worst of in-humanity.

    November 18, 2013 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  22. Matt

    Hey Joe M. ... I think the weaving of other peoples works into their own is actually a rand paul thing. got the wrong guy. you have officially made yourself look like an idiot, which i can imagine, isn't a very hard thing to do!

    November 18, 2013 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  23. Rick

    How sad and tragic.

    November 18, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  24. steve crumbaugh

    That's ok that he skipped out. There's no connection between Obama and Lincoln. None.

    November 18, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  25. Dianne

    And FYI. The civil was was not first and foremost about slavery. That was the excuse. The North wanted the South rich resources and had to have a reason. Much like Bush invading Iraq for his daddy. The repubs are always banging the Bible. Guess the slipped the part where it says the Love of Money is the Root of All Evil, and its easier for a Camel to go thru the Eye of a Needle than for a rich man to go to Heaven.

    November 18, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
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