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. Perry

    Obama doesn't want to go where republicans are. Too bad, Lincoln was a republican other wise Obama would have been there like how he found his way to honor JFK.

    November 18, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  2. ObjectiveGuy

    It is very clear that Obama has no love of this country, nor does he seem to have any interest in lifting it up. Let's face it; he grew up in Hawaii, which is almost like its own country. For those of us who have traveled to this wonderful state, we love it, in part, because it is so different than the rest of the US. Kind of like traveling internationally without needing a passport, and I'm sure it was even more so during Obama's youth. Then, he spent much of his life beyond Hawaii living abroad as a resident, so again, no real attachment with the real USA. Its not surprising that he does not bleed red, white, and blue like many of us, but at least to me, it is surprising how he got to be elected president of this great nation without really having an affinity for it.

    November 18, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  3. Tell it like it is

    "Obama skips Gettysburg; bad move?" Probably. He's demonstrated that he possesses a talent for bad moves lately.

    November 18, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  4. param

    mr.obama// or the president of USA will attend gettysburg.
    this is his usual style of building up things and then -voila!......
    recall the birth certificate hoo-hah,with the reps redfaced,, the the mock modesty in the presidential election debates where he said that mr.romney was a good debater!! etc ..
    we may hear from the whitehouse blondman-the ever justifying mr jay[bray] carney ,,,that the president has called off all other programs to be at the place where his idol delivered the ist address,,, that the other living presidents have given it the go-by-saddened nancy will shriek out in the inimitable style how the conservative press/media is giving false news of the dems... but some thing like God is lea..king the truth–like the real numbers of regn at the aca website..ha ha

    November 18, 2013 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  5. WEEDY

    So... he goes, you urinate on him.. he stays away you urinate on him.... :-).. I presume then that all you haters simply want to urinate on this man . It makes little difference what his choices are, you will find some way to get the urge to soak him down.

    November 18, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  6. Bill

    Heck. Giv the guy a break. I was born in Philadelphia Pennsylvania 59 years ago, am a military Veteran, a Federal civil service worker, and I never even been to Gettysburg. Not an exciting time in my life or a time and place when brothers fought each other on the two different sides of our country in a civil war. I might visit the place when I retire, besides Valley Forge is closer to Philadelphia Metro Area.

    November 18, 2013 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  7. Marcus (from...?)

    Come to think of it, does anyone know a movie about the black soldiers of the CSA? Every movie that comes to mind showed the ones fighting for the Union...

    November 18, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  8. Lenny Pincus

    "It is very clear that Obama has no love of this country, nor does he seem to have any interest in lifting it up. Let's face it; he grew up in Hawaii, which is almost like its own country. For those of us who have traveled to this wonderful state, we love it, in part, because it is so different than the rest of the US."

    Kind of like Texas. Or Maine. Or South Carolina. Or Oregon. Or New Mexico. Or....

    Totally baffling how people can post such drivel.

    November 18, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  9. fire.camp

    ...you wanted change and you got it! CHANGE isn't always for the better!..................................

    November 18, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  10. sly

    The TeaBillieKKK's hate the fact that our President is half white.

    President Obama is doing a great job in my opinion – ended 2 Bush Oil Wars, killed our #1 enemy of all time, gave health care to 50 MILLION Americans who the TeaKKK want's banned from health care. Ended Federal discrimination againest people based on religion and preference. Forced Russia to negotiate a chemical weapons settlement with Syria.

    EACH of these accomplishments far exists anything the previous President did.

    November 18, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  11. Bob

    Can we for one moment forget the politics and just focus on the sacrifices that were made? President Obama is a free man today because of Gettysburg and all the other Civil War battles fought over those five years. To not take the time and acknowledge them or what they represents is unconscionable, I voted for this President because he promised "Hope and Change" and his platform was "Yes we can"! So, I have to ask, if we could...then why didn't we? Sadly, this Presidency wasn't about "Hope and Change", it was about agendas! The America that I grew up with in the 50's, 60's, 70's and even the 80's is gone and we will never see that spirit or those values again.

    November 18, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  12. beachykeen

    One more nail in the coffin, not that it matters. Does he realize that he is going to be remembered as the worst president ever? Even worse than Jimmy Carter...

    For those of you defending him and this decision, shame on you. We are "The United States" due, in part, to the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War as a whole.

    November 18, 2013 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  13. Bob Smith

    And if he did go the same people would criticize him for wasting tax dollars outside of the office.

    November 18, 2013 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  14. iceload9

    Obama doesn't owe history so he's going to "Wall Street Journal CEO Council".

    November 18, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  15. bailee

    It sure wouldn't be the first "bad" thing that the media has accused President Obama of doing. In fact, lately, it seems the media reports any and everything he does is "bad"! You all sure are working hard to ruin his legacy. Ummmmmm. . . . . I wonder why?????

    November 18, 2013 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
  16. Jeannie

    Why would anyone expect less? Now if it was a celebration in at a mosque, any where in the world, he would be there. He has never been a supporter of anything AMERICAN.

    November 18, 2013 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  17. Bob Smith

    They should run another story with the opposite information – "Obama to speak at Gettysburg event" and watch people make exactly the same comments here.

    November 18, 2013 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  18. andyv2k14

    Given that Gettysburg is considered one of the pivotal moments in US History, it is surprising that the President of the United States is not going, and even more so that he chooses to address a bunch of CEO's rather than the American people. I will not lie, I am not a Barrack Obama fan, but he ought to be there. And States' Rights was the pivotal cause of the Civil War. Slavery was just an example of how Southerners felt that the Federal government would trample on States' Rights. However, what most Southerners feared was the idea of tyranny by a majority (or the elective despotism that Madison referred to). With the north gaining more seats in the House and more Electors, the South was worried that their voice would be drowned out in Washington. It is a very real concerned that is now being shared in rural communities across the nation. A democratically elected government can trample a man's rights just as easily as a despot can.

    November 18, 2013 05:25 pm at 5:25 pm |
  19. Stang05

    Probably has another golf date scheduled.

    November 18, 2013 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  20. AS

    Golf, and not enforcing the Obamacare laws he enacted are more important than commemortaing some old white guy's speech to old white guys.

    November 18, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  21. karl from az

    The EVIL man would feel out of place there!

    November 18, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  22. Josh

    And if he were to go everyone would be yelling that he's taking time off from getting the ACA fixed to do other things. The man can't win for losing.

    November 18, 2013 05:40 pm at 5:40 pm |
  23. Fish

    I would have preferred the President make an appearance, just to honor one of the greatest acts of selflessness performed by any President, not only did Lincoln honor the dead with words but he did so while travelling while very ill while continuing to monitor a Civil War!!! The communications and travel were extremely primitive by todays standards yet Lincoln managed to make the trip, deliver a memorable speech, still maintain communication with his generals approve a cemetery design while suffering from the same fever from which his son Tad was recovering. For President Obama to appear would only do justice to a former President, statesman and honored American. Besides it's just a stone's throw from Camp David!!!

    November 18, 2013 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  24. dajowi

    Obama's policies are meant to enslave Americans. He doesn't want to appear to be a hypocrite by going to Gettysburg.

    November 18, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  25. Jimmy

    Lincoln was a Republican.
    Obama doesn't like Republicans.

    November 18, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
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