One President of the United States was invited to speak at the national cemetery at Gettysburg as an afterthought. He was not the featured speaker, and his words lasted but a few minutes. His Gettysburg Address has become the most famous oration in American history. Seven score and ten years later another U.S. President received an invitation to speak at that hallowed ground. His remarks were to have been the focal point of the event. He declined marking yet another misstep in a disintegrating presidency.
Barack Obama has always fancied himself as walking in Abraham Lincoln's footsteps. He announced his presidential candidacy in Springfield, Illinois the electoral hometown of the 16th president. Mr. Obama was even sworn in with his hand resting on President Lincoln's Bible. It would have been a natural act for him to have attended the ceremonies Tuesday marking the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. It was a missed opportunity for a White House usually more adept at imagery than actual governing.
There is rarely a time for a president to look more presidential than speaking during occasions marking significant events in American history. Ronald Reagan's stirring remarks standing on the cliff at Pointe du Hoc on June 6, 1984 commemorating the D-Day invasion of Normandy was one of the highlights of his presidency. At the very spot where allied troops landed Reagan said "These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war." His words simultaneously moved a nation to tears while honoring the "last full measure of devotion" another generation had given.
Lincoln at Gettysburg and Reagan at Pointe du Hoc are examples of presidents who grasped not the politics of the moment, but the intrinsic emotional and historic nature of the times in which they found themselves. Their remarks struck a chord residing deep within the American psyche which defines the exceptional nature of our national existence. At our core we value our freedom and we honor those who fight for and preserve it.
Barack Obama's presidency is imploding precisely because he does not grasp this essential element of the nation he is attempting to govern. While there will always be that segment of our society that prefers government dependency, there remains a majority of Americans who would like nothing more than a good job with the opportunity for upward mobility for themselves and for their family. The Obama agenda offers the exact opposite as he has presided over the greatest non-war time expansion of the federal government in U.S. history.
That agenda has failed, and the failure was entirely predictable. The Affordable Health Care Act, Obamacare, has collapsed not because of a poorly built web site, but because it is structurally, fatally flawed. Concern and confusion over the law has contributed greatly to a sluggish economy that has not recovered in a meaningful way from the Great Recession. The economy is not recovering because virtually every policy propagated by this administration has been designed to empower government, not the individual. This runs counter to both the laws of economics and the innate entrepreneurship of the American people.
Against a backdrop of failure and scandal the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address gave Barack Obama the opportunity to remind us that from our darkest hours have emerged some of our greatest victories. The battles at Gettysburg and at Pointe du Hoc were horrific with the future of freedom for millions very much in doubt. Both were turning points that resulted in "a new birth of freedom."
America today is again in need of a turning point. Our current president missed the opportunity to set us off on that path. Therefore, let us revisit the words of a President who embraced his rendezvous with destiny by reminding us that: "It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is for us to be dedicated here to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, 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."
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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