So, after all these years of endless Abraham Lincoln references - when the situation favored them, of course - by President Obama, why would it be deemed odd that a journalist would ask the question some of us have been raising since the word broke that Team Obama was sending a second stringer instead of the big guy himself to mark this historical anniversary? I think it is safe to say this White House is on the defensive and in such disarray that every inquiry is treated with scorn and snark.
One journalist, Ron Fournier, asked the question of a senior Obama adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, on Twitter. A whole lot of truth came shining through in that exchange. The folks at the Weekly Standard found the exchange illuminating, too.
This adviser claimed it was merely a scheduling problem. However, that excuse, like many from the White House lately, doesn't quite jell.
"It didn't work schedule-wise," was the explanation tweeted Tuesday morning by Dan Pfeiffer, the president's senior adviser. The schedule released by the White House showed the president at 10 a.m. in the Oval Office receiving his regular daily briefing. Then, at 10:45, he welcomed to the White House a group of senators to brief them on the latest developments in Iran. That briefing was not scheduled until Monday, well after the White House declined the Gettysburg invitation. Later in the day -- after he would have been back from the planned ceremony at Gettysburg -- he goes to the Four Seasons Hotel to address The Wall Street Journal CEO Council's annual meeting and talk about the economy.That's right. Dan Pfeiffer would like for you to believe that President Obama is far too busy fixing the Obamacare website to hop on his trusty Air Force One and wing his way the short distance to Gettysburg. Maybe President Obama has learned to write code so that he may just fix the whole mess himself.
It is tradition that sitting presidents honor the occasion. Maybe that is the hitch - this president fancies himself a rebel. The problem is that more often than not, he comes off looking really, really bad in his refusal to carry on traditions. Americans like tradition.
There are differing counts of how many of the 28 presidents after Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg. CNN reports that 24 have gone. The Gettysburg Times reports that every 20th-century president made the pilgrimage except for Bill Clinton. Woodrow Wilson spoke at the 50th anniversary in 1913. Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the 75th in 1938. Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson all took separate trips there in the 100th-anniversary year of 1963. But not all went willingly, and all tried to avoid speech comparisons with Lincoln.In his new biography of Wilson, A. Scott Berg writes that the president declined the invitation to go to the 50th-anniversary ceremonies. He reconsidered only after a warning from a Pennsylvania congressman that there would be recriminations if he stayed away. "Both blue and gray are to be there," Wilson wrote in a letter explaining what he was told. He said that his absence would be resented. "It would be suggested that he is a Southerner and out of sympathy with the occasion. In short it would be more than a passing mistake; it would amount to a serious blunder."The fact is, Presidents do as they please when it comes to schedule changes. In this case, there was no need for a change. There was time for presidential recognition all along. It is particularly odd that our first Black president decided to bypass the occasion, given that the address was about the equality of men in America.
It is fitting that some new Americans were welcomed:
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia administered the oath of allegiance to a group of 16 immigrants, telling them the national identity is unique, illustrated by the existence of the word "un-American" and by the people's "fidelity to certain political principles.""Welcome my soon-to-be-fellow citizens," Scalia said. "May America bring you all you expect from it and may you give it all that it expects from you."So, while thousands gathered to mark the occasion in Gettysburg, President Obama penned a few thoughts about the Gettysburg Address. As usual, it was all about him. And it is completely unbelievable nonsense. Feeling the heat throughout the day, no doubt, spurred him on to produce such a paper. The White House is touting the fact that it is handwritten by Obama.
Here is the letter transcribed:"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 executive; 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 [illegible] sprit 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 await us, this nation and the freedom we cherish can, and shall, prevail."
This exercise is also, conveniently, a submitted as part of a project called "272 Words":
Obama contributed his handwritten essay - about the same length as Lincoln's short address - to the Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation's project called "272 Words," where people contribute thoughts in the spirit of Lincoln.
The project involves ordinary Americans as well as former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, General Colin Powell, and Martin Luther King III, the White House said.
One consistency with President Obama - everything is always all about him.