In this age of presidential public relations, the Commander in Chief is always looking for the big opportunity to address the American people in a way that won’t seem like pandering and appear completely contrived. With a nation full of cynical citizens these days, that’s not an easy feat to accomplish.
Rarely does such an opportunity literally fall in the president’s lap. Today was one such chance for President Obama to make such an address and he missed it.
On November 19, 1863, in just over two minutes, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the most famous and arguably most important speech in our country’s history at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
The theme of Lincoln’s speech was national unity. Harkening back to the nation’s founding, Lincoln drew on those experiences and then called on all Americans (half of which were still part of the Confederate States of America) to join together to accomplish the mission upon which the nation was founded. He concluded with the charge “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
One hundred forty-five years after Lincoln gave what came to be known as the Gettysburg Address, the United States elected its first African-American president, Barack Obama. Regardless of party affiliation or for whom a vote was cast, this was indeed an important moment in the nation’s history.
All of this was never lost on then Senator Obama. He took every opportunity to draw comparisons to himself and Lincoln. In fact, he announced his candidacy for the presidency in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, Illinois, where Lincoln once served. At both his inaugurations, Obama took the Oath of Office on the Lincoln family Bible.
If there was ever an opportunity for Obama to join together his self-promoted affiliation with Lincoln and the occasion, it was today. With all the rancor in Washington and with the nation seemingly torn in two directions, now would have been a perfect time for Obama to prove that he’s worthy of all the accolades constantly thrown at him describing him as one of the greatest orators of our generation.
So what happened when Obama was presented with that opportunity?
He skipped it.
According to his aides (rather cryptically), there was a scheduling conflict.
Obama’s absence was not without precedent. Fifty years ago, at the one hundredth anniversary of that speech, a president was extended a similar invitation and declined. Rather than go to Gettysburg, President John F. Kennedy chose to travel on an ill-fated campaign trip to Dallas, Texas.
Obama didn’t ignore today’s event altogether. He did send a recorded greeting to the newly sworn in United States citizens present at the event. His words were not particularly stirring. It was a video recording that could have been shown at almost any similar gathering.
If there was one time in all the many times Obama has tried to draw some comparison to Lincoln it could have been today. He could have delivered a speech of unity and looking to the future.
Instead, he bowed out. Part of the reason could be that in the last few years, he has been as much the source of the problem in creating divisions in this country as anyone.
The biggest reason he declined, however, may be the recent series of events clearly demonstrating that the emperor truly has no clothes. Perhaps the comparison to Lincoln is a charade even Obama himself no longer wants to try to pull off.