President Obama's Historic Gettysburg Slight
Heather Cox Richardson, professor of history at Boston College, actually thinks the president made the right decision:
"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."
Self-abnegation on the part of our narcissistic president? The thought is a parody of reality.
Closer to a more plausible explanation is Daniel Henninger's take:
For Mr. Obama, and many others, "We the People" means not the Union of sovereign states, the Union for which a civil war was fought, but the single political agency of the national government. Had he decided to show up Tuesday in Gettsyburg, Mr. Obama would have repeated his belief that American freedom flows forward from acts taken by one national government, itself defining and administering the collective will of some inchoate force called "we."
It's a philosophically sound reason and rings true given what we know of Mr Obama's ass-backward notion of rights flowing from the government to the people rather than the other way around. There is no room in the president's radical communitarian philosophy for most individual rights to supersede the rights of the "community" -- that being a benevolent and helpful national government that supposedly represents all of us and divvies up national goodies based on his special notions of "social justice."
But looking more closely, the explanation is far too philosophical for such a political creature as the president. That's why this speculation from Pennsylvania state Senator Rich Alloway (R-Chambersburg), who represents Gettysburg, may approach the truth of the matter:
"Gettysburg is a national treasure that doesn't belong to one party or the other," Alloway said. "However, with all the controversy surrounding him and Obamacare, it would only take away from the meaning of Remembrance Day."
That's a politician's thinking and probably comes closest to Obama's rationale for dodging Gettysburg. Is he afraid he might get booed? The president rarely appears these days before audiences that aren't hand-picked sycophants. His attendance at a basketball game in Maryland over the weekend resulted in a chorus of boos and catcalls raining down from the stands on him. Since the announcement of his refusal to attend occurred the last week in October, when problems with the Obamacare rollout were beginning to snowball, it seems logical to assume that the president feared a less-than-optimal reception if he appeared in public in an uncontrolled environment.
Whatever his reasons, the event will be poorer for his absence. The majesty of the presidency knows no party or personality, and lending the event the power and prestige of the chief executive would have been a fitting coda to a ceremony honoring a "hinge of history." America was a different country after Lincoln spoke those words than it was before he gave his "few appropriate remarks." It's a shame that President Obama couldn't find it within himself to make the pilgrimage to Gettysburg to recognize the immense historical significance of the moment.