Our debased civic dialogue doesn’t afford us many laughs, which is why yesterday’s right-wing head-detonation over Obama and Gettysburg was such a welcome delight. Nothing in recent weeks has been funnier than this foray into the fever swamp of historical ignorance.
Those of you who are focused on real stuff – like the Obamacare rollout disaster – might’ve missed the latest IQ-challenged conservative freakout. It spread like a virus through the conservative “media,” and quickly rolled through Trollville. It had two themes: (a) Obama dissed Gettysburg when he refused to attend the town’s 150th anniversary ceremony! (b) Obama read the Gettysburg Address for documentary filmmaker Ken Burns – but he cravenly omitted the words under God!
The (a) theme was apparently hatched by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, a paper owned and published by right-wing mogul Richard Mellon Scaife. The reporter, Salena Zito, who apparently believed (or preferred to believe) that Obama’s non-attendance in Gettysburg was unprecedented, wrote that the president was “detached from the duty of history,” and that his absence from the ceremony was “unspeakable in its audacity.”
Naturally, that earned Zito a guest shot yesterday on Fox News, where the usual blondette hostess writhed in outrage: “The Gettysburg battle was viewed as the turning point in the war!…You couldn’t think of a bigger moment (than an anniversary ceremony) to mark that!” The story came up again on Fox & Friends, where host Brian Kilmeade declared, “As Americans flock to southern Pennsylvania for the commemoration, you won’t find President Obama joining in that honor!” Kilmeade was seconded by echo-chamber columnist Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal, who said that Obama’s refusal to visit Gettysburg on anniversary day was “inconceivable.” And then the right-wing bloggers started chewing the carpet, railing that Obama’s “snub” was “incomprehensible.”
Let’s have some fun, shall we?
Since Abe’s assassination, there have been 27 presidents. Care to guess how many of them have participated in Gettysburg anniversary ceremonies? I’ll save you the time. Here’s the answer:
That was William Howard Taft, in 1909. Which means that, on the big milestone anniversaries, no president has ever participated. Grover Cleveland didn’t show up for the 25th in 1888. Woodrow Wilson didn’t show up for the 50th in 1913. FDR didn’t show up for the 75th in 1938. JFK didn’t show up for the 100th in 1963. And Ronald Reagan didn’t show up for the 125th in 1988.
Funny how Fox News, and the rest of the freakout gang, failed to mention that basic historical info – especially about their AWOL icon, Ronald Reagan. I took the liberty of looking up Reagan’s published diary entry for Nov. 19, 1988, just to see how busy he was on the 125th anniversary of Gettysburg. Presumably he had far more pressing business that morning. Here’s what he wrote:
“Slept in, then up & at the desk for PDB (presidential daily briefing) & radio script timing. And then a packet of bills arrived for signature or veto. No vetoes all signed & delivered when I went to Oval O for radiocast. The afternoon was a mix of packing things for Nancy to take to Calif.”
Yup, the Gipper was way too scheduled to go to Gettysburg – five minutes at the noon hour – so it was a good thing he’d “slept in.”
But I understand why the conservative entertainment complex failed yesterday to give its followers even the rudiments of historical perspective. Had they done so, the “story” of Obama’s “incomprehensible” “snub” would’ve fallen apart. Which brings us to the (b) theme. Which was nearly as funny as (a).
It was a big story for all the usual suspects – Breitbart, Drudge, Daily Caller, National Review Online, clueless trolls, you know the drill. Supposedly, when Obama recited the Gettysburg Address for Ken Burns, and arrived at a key passage – “…that the nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…” – he took it upon himself to remove the reference to under God. (Supposedly, he engineered that blasphemy because he’s a radical/athetist/Muslim. Or so it was widely alleged.)
Well, guess what: There are five versions/drafts of the Gettysburg Address. Two of those Lincoln drafts – the only two that are archived in the Library of Congress – omit the words under God. Burns requested that Obama read one of those drafts – the initial one, known as the Nicolay Copy, and Obama did it. End of story. Excuse me, “story.”
Apparently, the detonating heads had no idea that there were multiple drafts of the Address – for America-lovers, they’re quite clueless about American history – because they seemed surprised when Burns subsequently posted that basic info on his site. Then they tried to double down, demanding to know why that “disclaimer” had not appeared earlier. Of course, if they’d known their history, they wouldn’t have freaked out in the first place.
And we all know how the echo chamber would’ve responded, if Obama had actually gone to Gettysburg. He would’ve been attacked for wasting taxpayer money on logistics and Secret Service; he would’ve been attacked for presuming to emulate Lincoln; he would’ve been attacked for leaving Washington, instead of staying there to fix Obamacare.
But that’s the beauty of the freakout gestalt. There’s always a (c) theme.
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