President Barack Obama has appropriated the mythos of President Abraham Lincoln in facile little ways, using the Lincoln Bible at both his inaugurations and announcing his candidacy on the steps of the Old Illinois State Capital in Springfield. But he’s declined a Congressional invitation to speak Nov. 19, when Gettysburg marks the 150th anniversary of one of Lincoln’s most enduring legacies: the 16th President’s 1863 dedication speech for the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, known to generations both past and yet to come as the Gettysburg Address.
The White House declined a bipartisan invitation from Senator Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Representative Scott Perry (R-Pa.) without offering a reason for the President’s planned absence.
Area newspaper the York Daily Record noted that months passed without an RSVP until, finally, the White House notified the Congressional delegation that Obama was sending Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior. Historian James McPherson will join Jewell in delivering the event’s two keynote speeches.
The Daily Record was among a number of local newspapers that unloaded on Obama once it became clear this week that he would be a no-show in Gettysburg. In an editorial headlined “Obama’s rejection of Gettysburg Address invitation unacceptable,” the editorial staff offered this:
How could he not pay his respects to those whose ultimate sacrifices made his presidency possible?
How could he not visit and acknowledge the new birth of freedom that is his — and our nation’s — inheritance of that battle?
Well, he’s not coming.
The National Park Service this week said the president was instead sending Interior Secretary Sally Jewell — a former oil, banking and outdoor gear accessory executive who was born in England.
With all due respect to Ms. Jewell, she is an unacceptable substitute for the President of the United States.
If crucial matters of state demand the president’s attention that day, the least he could do is send the vice president.
…But whatever the reason, the declined invitation is unacceptable.
Barack Obama is the most powerful man on earth. If he wanted to be here on Nov. 19, he could make that happen.
The fact that he is uninterested or unwilling to do so is deeply disappointing — and likely to lead to further division in our politically cleft nation.
…President Obama could have used this occasion to offer words of healing and reconciliation — as his Illinois forefather once did.
Instead, he is sending us a little-known Cabinet member to do the job of a president, of a statesman, of an orator.
Writing for The Patriot News, a Harrisburg newspaper, Donald Gilliland’s remarks were similar:
Obama will be a no-show at the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. For a president who has so demonstrably associated himself with Lincoln…this is nothing less than a profile in cowardice.
In the end, Barack Obama simply didn’t have the stones.