Gabriel Garnica
The Gettysburg snub reminds us that oil and water do not mix
By Gabriel Garnica
November 21, 2013

It does not happen very often, and so when it does, we should recognize it for what it is. There are times when a decision or move is both the wrong thing to do, and the right thing to do, at the same time. Barack Obama's decision to not attend much less speak at the 150th anniversary of The Gettysburg Address is such a transcending move.

The Irony

The utter irony of having the first African-American president not attend a ceremony honoring the iconic speech by a man who held the nation together through its greatest struggle with racial equality is breathtaking. Yet another irony is that this current president presents himself as a Lincoln admirer, from announcing for president at Lincoln's Springfield law office to taking his oath as president with his hand on Lincoln's Bible. However, if wisdom teaches us anything, it is that perceived irony is sometimes not irony at all. Irony is defined as incongruity between the expected and the actual. However, if the expected is false, if what we perceive as truth or reality turns out to be merely pretense, then the paradoxical and inconsistent actuality that surprises us turns out to be merely a glimpse of the genuine truth that has been concealed. In other words, not showing up at the Gettysburg event may be the most honest thing Barack Obama has ever done. While that observation may not seem very impressive given his record, it is nevertheless telling. Abraham Lincoln was known as Honest Abe; you can add your own punch line here.

The Light

Many will argue that, regardless of his personal feelings or preferences on the matter, Barack Obama should have attended this event given its powerful and transcendent importance in our nation's history. Certainly, that history shows us that many past presidents did not exactly fall over themselves rushing to attend, but nearly all did. Perhaps they feared comparisons to the great man they knew would only diminish them. Maybe they felt that that hallowed stage would only highlight their relative triviality in the pages of our history. Regardless of their concerns or insecurities, most of these leaders, one way or the other, made the right decision to at least honor the man and the event with their humble presence. I can say "humble" because, make no mistake about it, any president since the great Lincoln should approach that great leader's words and actions with humility, with utter respect and deep appreciation for his sacrifice and guidance under such dire circumstances. I would further say that anyone who, by nature of his self-perceived importance, arrogance, or insecurity, cannot find it possible to approach this event with a humility heretofore unknown or uncharted, should not thus attend, lest the task that requires humility should be undertaken with hypocrisy.

Perhaps Obama's actions enlighten us to the possibility that his so-called admiration of Lincoln is only one of countless convenient political props planted on a delusional vision of self-importance that allows the trivial to stand on the shoulders of the iconic. Admirers of Mickey Mantle, JFK, and Martin Luther King, for example, will often move mountains to attend and participate in events honoring those iconic figures. Unlike most fans of greatness, a sitting president can attend whatever event he wants with the swipe of a hand, so the only reason for not attending is plainly an interesting mix of apathy and arrogance.

The pathetic excuse that Gettysburg did not fit "schedule-wise," given Obama's moving mountains to attend golf outings, dinners in his honor, and Planned Parenthood conferences, reminds us that Obama only attends events that honor him, his agenda, or his whims. Likewise, his penchant for altering speeches and having religious symbols removed when and where he speaks, reminds us that, when he graces his audiences with his presence, he does so on his terms, which is being the center of attention while not missing any opportunity to remove references to God. Barack Obama claims to be a Christian, but that claim has proven to be akin to someone with vertigo claiming to be a skydiver.

The irony lifted, the light revealed, we are faced with the reality that Barack Obama did not attend the Gettysburg event because he did not consider it as important as attending a Planned Parenthood convention, playing golf, or waving to fawning drones. We are left with the likes of CNN, which I suspect would twist into a pretzel to justify Obama running naked down Pennsylvania Avenue as a new health initiative, wondering if his refusal to attend the Gettysburg event was not, in fact, smart. The truth is, Obama could have used this event to further stamp his association with Lincoln, to further his own agenda, which would have been more consistent with his nature. The fact did he chose not to reveals just how disconnected he truly is from the core of America, common political sense, and even his own self-absorption.

The Take Away

In the transcendent humility which punctuated his greatness, Abraham Lincoln inaccurately told us that the world would little note nor long remember what he said at Gettysburg while never forgetting what brave men did there. History has shown otherwise; in fact, his iconic words have punctuated their sacrifice, as well as his status as our nation's greatest president. The shadow of that greatness has proven long for many subsequent leaders who nevertheless overcame their self-focus to honor and respect the purpose served, the blood shed, and the words spoken 65 miles from a White House too large for many of their meager talents and efforts.

Given the choice between having the Lincoln Memorial and his image on Mount Rushmore or a monument to our heroes, one suspects Lincoln would have preferred the latter and greatly discouraged the former. Given a similar choice between having large monuments erected in his honor or honoring our war heroes, the greatness of America, or even the uniqueness of being an American, I suspect Barack Obama's choice might be self-evident at this point.

Gettysburg was and is not about self; it has nothing to do with convenience or twisted notions of freedom of privacy and empowerment to avoid personal responsibility. Its fields were not the stage for the vanity, celebrity, or inane superficiality that infects our present leadership. Its messenger of healing and reconciliation was a stranger to selfish insecurity, pouting retribution, empty promises, bold-faced lies, self-serving manipulation and division, and pompous disregard for the Almighty. Its message drips with pride of America, appreciation for its unique greatness, and gratitude for its welcoming shores and mission. There is no apology in Gettysburg; one will find no embarrassment for being an American, no phobia of its Judeo-Christian roots and core, nor betrayal of its core values.

Gettysburg is all about courage, about sacrifice of self for a cause greater than oneself which, obviously, assumes that one believes that there are causes greater than oneself. It is about men with values and the stones to fight for them. It is about men having the stones to keep a house united, and not about spoiled leaders in glass houses throwing stones which critics argue they never had in the first place.

Abraham Lincoln fits in Gettysburg; he melts into its symbolism and message as naturally as water mingles with water in its purity and clarity. Quite frankly, Barack Obama does not fit there, for oil is slick, slippery, and not clear at all. In fact, I suspect that just as oil sits above water refusing to mix with it, Barack Obama, in his own mind, feels above the purity and patriotism of Gettysburg's hallowed ground. Lincoln was about unity, charity, forgiveness; Gettysburg was about patriotic sacrifice of self. Obama has been all about division, revenge, threats, and self-serving agendas. He will never fit in Gettysburg, so we have the paradox that he was right not to do out of truth what he should have done out of the kind of pretense he uses like golf balls during a national crisis.

He should have gone; ideally, out of respect and honor. He could have gone; cynically, out of political convenience, consistency, and publicity. Ultimately, he chose not to attend; ironically, because, as even CNN implies, it would have been all about him and that, more than anything else, says it all.

© Gabriel Garnica


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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