Missing in Action: Obama a no-show at Gettysburg Address anniversary
November 20, 2013 12:00 AM | 2212 views | 4 4 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tens of thousands gathered in Gettysburg, Penn., on Tuesday from around the country to mark the 150th anniversary of what most scholars consider to have been the most important, most compelling and most quoted speech ever given in this country: Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address.”

There was a prominent no-show at the event: President Barack Obama, who chose to snub his predecessor and whose White House spokesman, Jay Carney, offered only a barely coherent excuse for his boss’s absence and decision to send an obscure Cabinet secretary in his place.

We realize that following in Lincoln’s footsteps would be a daunting task for any public speaker, even one as gifted as Obama. And we’re aware that even though 24 of the presidents since Lincoln have visited Gettysburg during their tenure (and according to The Gettysburg Times, every 20th-century president except Bill Clinton), many of them were reluctant to do so for that very reason.

Yet Woodrow Wilson spoke there on the 50th anniversary of the speech, Franklin Roosevelt did so on the 75th and Dwight Eisenhower (by then an ex-president living on a farm nearby) did so on the 100th. Vice President Lyndon Johnson spoke there that year (1963) as well (filling in for President Kennedy, who begged off) and used the opportunity to make one of the strongest pro-civil rights speeches of his career. President Ronald Reagan, for reasons presently unclear, did not attend the 125th anniversary event, although 125th anniversaries of things rarely get the attention that 100ths or 150ths do. Even so, if he was invited, he should have gone, and should have come in for some criticism on these pages for not doing so if he skipped the occasion.

But Obama’s absence was mystifying, considering that Lincoln used the speech to expand the justification for the war from “preserving the Union” to the need for “a new birth of freedom.” That is, a guarantee that the country would finally live up to the words of its Constitution that “all men are created equal.”

Had not the Civil War taken place and had not Lincoln been willing to stake the country’s future, his political prospects — and ultimately his life — on the need for such a change, as so powerfully argued in his Address, it’s unlikely that Obama would today be in the White House.

But perhaps it’s just as well Obama chose to spend the day holed up in the White House. Unlike Lincoln, who spoke of unity and rebirth, Obama trades in polarization and the politics of deceit. It’s possible that after paying lip service to Lincoln and those buried there that Obama would have used most of his speech to brag about his health care law, which has already caused millions of Americans to see their health insurance policies canceled, with many millions more to come.

And even had he not, Obama, as an advocate of ever-bigger and more intrusive government, might have put a different spin on Lincoln’s famous closing lines about “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Lincoln put the emphasis on the words “the people.” Obama might just have likely emphasized the word “government.”

Obama bypassed a golden opportunity to remind Americans of our shared heritage and to spur us to transcend our many differences. He also did himself no favors by snubbing one of this country’s most revered figures and failing to honor the sacrifices of those who fought and fell at Gettysburg.

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Patrick Thompson
November 20, 2013
Missing in action, a mature, non-sensationalizing, conspiracy everywhere, propagandizing press.

The President's handwritten note, paying tribute to President Lincoln, to the fallen, and to liberty...for all.

Read the full text below:

In the evening, when Michelle and the girls have gone to bed, I sometimes walk down the hall to a room Abraham Lincoln used as his office. It contains an original copy of the Gettysburg Address, written in Lincoln's own hand. I linger on these few words that have helped define our American experiment: "a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Through the lines of weariness etched in his face, we know Lincoln grasped, perhaps more than anyone, the burdens required to give these words meaning. He knew that even a self evident truth was not self executing; that blood drawn by the lash was an affront to our ideals; that blood drawn by the sword was in painful service to those same ideals.

He understood as well that our humble efforts, our individual ambitions, are ultimately not what matter; rather, it is through the accumulated toil and sacrifice of ordinary men and women -- those like the soldiers who consecrated that battlefield -- that this country is built, and freedom preserved. This quintessentially self made man, fierce in his belief in honest work and the striving spirit at the heart of America, believed that it falls to each generation, collectively, to share in that toil and sacrifice.

Through cold war and world war, through industrial revolutions and technological transformations, through movements for civil rights and women's rights and workers rights and gay rights, we have. At times, social and economic change have strained our union. But Lincoln's words give us confidence that whatever trials avoid us, this nation and the freedom we cherish can, and shall, prevail.

Woodrow Plant
January 20, 2014
Actions speak louder than words ... but then you should already know that fact.
Bill Daniel
November 20, 2013
Very well written. This is American holy ground. It's a snub that defies explanation. It's less than 40 miles from Camp David where Obama spends a lot of time. It's an unexplained absence, like the one on 9/11/2012.

Fortunately, though, patriots were on hand and the dead souls of the battlefields were remembered. Bless them.
Patrick Thompson
November 22, 2013
This shouldn't be considered a snub when the President was in NY working on the economy with corporate CEOs and he's spoken many times on his respect for President Lincoln, against racism and in support of our people in uniform - past and present. In all of American post-Lincoln history, only one sitting president has ever gone to Gettysburg on the anniversary of the address. No Nixon, no Bush, no JFK, no Truman, no Roosevelt, no Reagan. Only Taft - remember that one?
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