Barack Obama’s decision not to attend ceremonies… commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address is drawing controversy. The Obama administration, already under severe scrutiny for the botched health insurance roll-out, was in no mood for more criticism regarding the President’s decision making.
The decision not to attend ANY sesquicentennial Gettysburg…celebrations struck many observers as an odd one. President Obama has gone out of his way establishing historic ties to our 16th President, a fellow Illinoisan. He announced his candidacy in 2007 near the doors of Lincoln’s law office in Springfield, was sworn in on the Lincoln bible in 2009 and 2013, and followed Lincoln’s train route to Washington in 2009. The country sees the connection- Lincoln must mean a lot to this President… why the snub?
Presidents have gone to Gettysburg before… but have avoided the November anniversary- the Gettysburg Address remembrance. Speaking at Gettysburg draws comparisons to Lincoln’s greatest speech- not a fair fight by any measure. Wilson’s speech at the 50th anniversary of the battle in 1913 is generally considered lackluster. Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy all visited Gettysburg during ceremonies honoring the battle- their words were forgettable. Lyndon Johnson is often praised for his words there in 1963, but those were delivered on Memorial Day.
No President wants to be compared to Lincoln,… especially during times of political difficulty. Despite the dangers of historical context, Presidents in the 20th century made the journey to Gettysburg- for appearance if nothing else. The current President allowed present difficulty to cloud his judgement- an army of spin doctors and acolytes are trying to repair the damage in cyber space, but a legitimate opportunity at historical remembrance was missed. It is entirely reasonable that the people question his alleged fidelity with Lincoln.