Obama’s Not Going To Arlington: Much Ado About Nothing

President Obama left for a Memorial Day weekend stay in Chicago last night and will be returning to Washington Monday evening, which means that he will be sending Vice-President Biden to the traditional wealth-laying ceremony at the Tomb Of The Unknowns At Arlington National Cemetery:

President Obama is skipping the traditional Memorial Day visit to Arlington National Cemetery, a move that has dismayed some veterans — and comes at a sensitive moment in the administration’s relationship with the military.

Instead of speaking at Arlington, as he did last year and as most presidents have done, Obama will appear at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery outside Chicago, the White House said. Vice President Biden will take his place at Arlington, the most prestigious military cemetery in the country and home to Section 60, a large burial ground for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and executive director of the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, expressed disappointment at the White House move. “Arlington is hallowed ground, and the center of our nation’s attention on Memorial Day,” Rieckhoff said. “Unfortunately, President Obama and his family will not be there with us.”

Critics — mainly conservatives — have argued that attendance is more important with two wars ongoing. “Obama may talk about the government in the first person, but the men and women lying at Arlington know differently,” commentator Eric Erickson wrote on the conservative site Redstate.com. “Of course, Obama really doesn’t like the military, does he.” Fox News blared the headlines: “Trampling on Tradition?” and “Offensive to Soldiers?”

Erickson isn’t the only conservative who’s made this an issue this week. Over at JammieWearingFool, they called it a “slap in the face to our veterans,” another blogger called it “despicable,” and a third accused the President of having “no respect for the fallen.”

And, of course, Glenn Beck chimed in:

What the critics don’t seem to acknowledge is the fact that the record of Presidential attendance at Arlington over the past thirty years has been quite spotty:

On several occasions in just the last thirty years, U.S. presidents have been elsewhere on Memorial Day (either vacationing or attending to other presidential duties), while other administration officials represented them at the wreath-laying ceremony:

  • In 2002, President George W. Bush was in France on Memorial Day and participated in ceremonies at Normandy (site of the D-Day landings) honoring the U.S. soldiers who fought and died in World War II. In his place, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President George H.W. Bush (himself a World War II veteran) attended no ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery during his four years in office. In 1989 he was in Rome on Memorial Day (where he led observances at an American military cemetery south of that city), and from 1990 through 1992 he spent the Memorial Day weekend vacationing in Kennebunkport, Maine, while Vice-President Dan Quayle laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
  • President Ronald Reagan was away from Arlington on Memorial Day on four occasions during his eight years in office: In 1981, he (who had been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt six weeks earlier) spent the Memorial Day weekend at his ranch in Santa Barbara, California, while Vice-President George H.W. Bush laid the wreath at Arlington. In 1983, he attended a summit meeting in Williamsburg, Virginia, while Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Thayer represented the administration at the wreath-laying ceremony. In 1987, he spent Memorial Day at the Camp David presidential retreat while Navy Secretary James Webb participated in the wreath-laying ceremony. And on Memorial Day 1988, he was out of the U.S., attending a summit meeting in Moscow.

The only President in the last thirty years who attended the Memorial Day services at Arlington every year he was in office was, ironically enough, Bill Clinton.

These facts alone make the criticism ridiculous, but it’s made even more absurd when you take into account that the President will be taking part in a Memorial Day service at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery outside Chicago. So the whole “disrespecting the troops” meme that people like Erickson are following on this story is simply false, and stands more as an example of Obama Derangement Syndrome than serious analysis.

FILED UNDER: Barack Obama, Military Affairs, Politicians, US Politics, , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    Yes, but you see Reagan, Bush (41) and GW Bush were viewed as pro-American presidents. Even Clinton was viewed as pro-American if anti-Military. Obama, not so much.

  2. Viewed by who JKB ? The people suffering from ODS as far as I can tell

  3. Angie says:

    Obama seems to wake up every morning and think “what can I do today to further divide the country?”. He should be bringing us together and not splitting us apart. Go visit Chicago another weekend.

  4. Angie

    Did you feel the same way when George HW Bush skipped Memorial Day @ Arlington every year he was President ?

  5. tom p says:

    I have been told that the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is the largest in the country.

    How is going there instead a slap in the face of vets? How does that divide the country?

  6. tom p says:

    PS: I have 2 uncles buried there, another at Custer, and my father will be buried at Jefferson Barracks…

    I guess they are less because they are not at Arlington?

  7. Yes, but you see Reagan, Bush (41) and GW Bush were viewed as pro-American presidents. Even Clinton was viewed as pro-American if anti-Military. Obama, not so much.

    I am not sure if the above is the view of the poster or just an observation, but let me say this: it strikes me as a remarkable and absurd notion that any President of the United States of America can be considered “anti-American”–it is simply doesn’t make sense. First, why would one run for the presidency if one is “Anti-American” and, further, how could such a person win enough votes if one is “Anti-American”? Further, if one gets over half of the votes, doesn’t that objectively mean that America was “pro” the given candidate?

    Really, this is indicative of a problem with our politics at the moment, which at least in the case of Obama being “Anti-American” indicts the right, is that instead of saying that “I don’t agree with Obama and people who support him” people say things like “that whole side of the country’s politics is against America.” It makes someone who doesn’t agree with you into an enemy. How is this a good thing?

  8. anjin-san says:

    Why is the right disrespecting the memory of the vets buried at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery?

  9. Steve Plunk says:

    I doubt the Right is in as big of an uproar as our author makes it seem. If you have to use a quote from a comment on a blog you’re scrounging for material. The veteran’s group voiced disappointment? That’s hardly rabid criticism. This is much ado but who’s making something of nothing? I hardly see a right wing effort to discredit the President going on.

  10. It depends on how you define “the right” I guess.

    If you mean Glenn Beck and much of the loudest part of the right wing blogosphere, then there has definitely been an uproar.

    If you mean rational people, then I’m sure they dismissed as the nothing story it quite obviously is

  11. Steve Plunk says:

    Dr. Taylor, When people refer to Obama as being “anti American” they are saying he is anti traditional American values. A reasonable statement based upon his words and deeds. He is looking to make fundamental changes in domestic and foreign policy that many feel will forever make us different.

    There is no doubt Obama’s experiences as a citizen are different than most Americans. Family life, living abroad as a child, college, and even his time as a “community organizer” have all molded someone with a unique set of values not as common as most would think. Being an enigma like he is we really don’t know how different those values are.

    Why would someone run for president while being “anti American”? The desire to “fix” things more to one’s liking is why.

  12. Steve,

    And here’s an example of another blogger, in this case Ann Althouse who is usually a more rational person, getting upset over this nonsense story:

    http://althouse.blogspot.com/2010/05/why-is-president-obama-skipping.html

  13. @Steve:

    First, I am not sure that that is what most people who accuse Obama of being “Anti-American” means.

    Second, every president runs for office to change (or, at least they promise to change) the way that things are done in the government–that’s why people run for office. No one, not even the most conservative candidate, runs on a platform of “status quo now, status quo tomorrow and status quo forever.”

    I do not see empirical evidence that suggests that Obama is trying to make “fundamental” changes to the domestic and foreign policy of the United States. His foreign policy, for example, is not especially different than the one deployed by the Bush administration during his second term.

    Further, his signature domestic policy issue, health care reform, rather than radically changing anything, basically more deeply institutionalized the system we already had (private insurers providing insurance primarily employer based insurance). The most “radical” part of it is the individual mandate.

  14. @Doug: I fear Althouse has increasingly fallen into the same trap that Glenn Reynolds fell into some time ago: she likes the attention and accolades that go along with being a more partisan blogger.

  15. Steve,

    Its been a rather quick transition for her because I believe she said she voted for Obama in 2008.

  16. Doug,

    Yes. And I think she voted for Kerry (or flirted with it) in 2004.

    However, I have been reading her for a long while and there has been a shift, regardless of how she voted. Perhaps it is as much a tone thing as a partisan/ideological one.

    Perhaps it is just me.

  17. No I don’t think it’s just you, I’ve been reading her for a long time and the blog has definitely become more partisan over the years

  18. Juneau: says:

    Obama doesn’t believe in honoring the military. Showing appreciation is all political, rather than principle with him. Remember him only giving McCrystal 15 minutes to talk about Afghanistan? And the posed picture with the coffins in Delaware? He’s a poser and, like all posers, the true colors show clearly over time.

  19. spencer says:

    Is his “true color”black?

  20. Jen says:

    Who really cares? Do you really think the families of our fallen veterans WANT to deal with all of the extra security bullshit that comes along with the president attending? As a family member of a veteran I do not plan on attending, I do not need a special day to honor our fallen heros, I do that every day.

  21. just me says:

    I think veterans groups that organize the Arlington service certainly have the right to express disappointment.

    I don’t really think it is something to be outraged over in general that Obama is taking a pass on participating in the ceremony at Arlington. If Obama were remaining in DC, and choosing to go golfing on Memorial Day instead, the criticism would be fair, but Obama has planned to be out of town and intends to participate in Memorial Day services.

  22. anjin-san says:

    Dr. Taylor, When people refer to Obama as being “anti American” they are saying he is anti traditional American values.

    Hmmm. Let’s see. Obama is hard-working, focused & ambitious. He believes in education. He is devoted to his family. He is a self-made millionaire. He has put in some time trying to help folks less fortunate than himself. He loves basketball. He has a long track record of being successful at pretty much everything he does.

    I don’t know what American values you subscribe to, but Obama’s values seem pretty solid to me. There is more to being a good American than slapping a “support the troops” sticker on your car and cheering for the U.S. Olympic team.

  23. Jonathan says:

    The whole “Traditional American Values” thing is the problem with a lot on the right, and a lot in the tea party. No one will come out and say it, But the fact that we have a black man named Barack Hussein Obama in the White House just rubs some of these people the wrong way. Obama is different from you, but not from all Americans. The problem is the idiotic notion that people in the the South, Midwest and Small towns are more American than people in San Francisco, New York and Chicago.

    You clowns are doing more damage to the country than terrorists could ever do. You’ve already broken up the country. And now that we have a President who isn’t just like you, you feel like you have to throw a tantrum.

    Grow up and support your country. America doesn’t have to be the way you want it to be. All of these tea partiers that are nostalgic for the past fail to remember that those times were BAD for some people. And now that things are changing, they can’t deal with it.

    Go get a life.

  24. Josh says:

    There wasn’t a war on except when Bush 2 went to Europe for D-Day ceremonies.

  25. Trevor says:

    The thing that rubs me the wrong way is the government telling me what to do in areas in which it has no business telling me what to do. The Obama administration, and it seems the great majority of dems in the house and senate, openly support ‘spreading the wealth’. They don’t even try to hide it. That an individual can make his or her own choices about more aspects of their lives than anywhere else on earth, is fundamentally American. Anything that encroaches on those freedoms granted to us as citizens is a step in the wrong direction.
    Now, if you believe that the government is much better at running your life than you are, like Jonathan, then I understand why you support this administration.

  26. anjin-san says:

    That an individual can make his or her own choices about more aspects of their lives than anywhere else on earth, is fundamentally American. Anything that encroaches on those freedoms granted to us as citizens is a step in the wrong direction

    So I take it you support gay marriage, abortion rights, and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

  27. Terry Parker says:

    anjin-san says:
    Sunday, May 30, 2010 at 13:11
    That an individual can make his or her own choices about more aspects of their lives than anywhere else on earth, is fundamentally American. Anything that encroaches on those freedoms granted to us as citizens is a step in the wrong direction

    So I take it you support gay marriage, abortion rights, and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”.

    Genius 🙂

  28. Dee says:

    /So I take it you support gay marriage, abortion rights, and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”./

    Not that you asked *me*, but…
    I dislike the idea of gay marriage, but I dislike even more that the government would have a say in defining what marriage is. What’s next? A fine if my family isn’t 2.6 kids, 2 jobs, a nanny, and a white picket fence? Marriage is usually something that first begins, then solidifies, a family, but nobody should be able to define the makeup of a family except the people in it.
    I am a veteran, and I think the whole idea of “don’t ask, don’t tell” was not only ridiculous, but also shameful. Being gay does not mean that you can’t do your job, and do it well. It is sad that a policy had to be instituted, but after serving on a ship, I do understand it. I’m not saying I agree with it, but I do understand it.
    I do not like the idea of abortion. I believe that life is sacred, and if a woman makes a decision to have sex, she is also taking the chance of becoming pregnant. Because a child would be inconvenient is not a valid excuse to have an abortion. I think abortion is wrong, wrong, wrong, in any and every case. That being said, I also do not in any way, shape, form or fashion think it is right for our government to say that abortion is against the law, at any time, for any reason. It is a personal choice that a woman, and hopefully also a man, will have to live with forever.
    As for the government telling me that I have to buy health insurance? Like so many other things, I think it’s wrong. It is, or should be, my choice.
    And after all of that, I firmly believe that it would have been in this President’s best interest to be at Arlington for the ceremony. There are more than enough people in this country that do not feel he is sympathetic to the military. Why add fuel to their fire?

  29. Just_Me says:

    Is the national cemetary south of Chicago any less of a national cemetary than Arlington? No … sorry … its not, so why all of the hullabaloo?? This is absolutely ridiculous. He paid his respects – just at a different national cemetary than what conservatives deemed was okay (but I guarantee you if a Republican did the same thing it would be okay), Biden went to Arlington and its not like he is not the first President not to go to Arlington on Memorial Day. I’m really embarrassed that so many morons are nit picking over something that is such a non-issue it is crazy.

  30. Just_Me says:

    Juneau – if he doesn’t believe in honoring the military then why was he at the national cemetary in Chicago today and was at Arlington last year??

    You’re a moron.

  31. SSgt USMC says:

    Just_Me
    Let’s not resort to being two year old’s and start name calling. The issue at hand is that we have a president who is decreasing our countries military strength by closing military bases and decreasing it’s “man/woman power”. Then that same president decided to go against the grain and celebrate the tradition in a non-traditional spot.
    I don’t think that it is as big of a deal as everyone is making it out to be but if some are upset about it, then so be it. We live in a country where everyone is allowed to speak their minds. Even you. But if you can, then so can everyone else. This president is not the first to miss this opportunity to give thanks where the majority or presidents have in the past. The other presidents also caught a raft of crap for it too if memory serves me. If they caught crap then so should Obama.
    Let people speak their minds and they will let you speak yours. Obama should have chosen another weekend to take a vacation. The national cemetery in Chicago is no more nor less of a national cemetery than the one in Arlington but the traditional spot for the president to show support for his military, the veterans like myself, and the deceased is in Arlington. Why did he break with tradition? That is the question that should be asked.

  32. Jake says:

    I’m not an Obama supporter. But I can’t really jump on him for not showing up to Arlington, especially given that 3 of our last 4 presidents missed atleast one memorial day, and one even didn’t attend a single one. Is it dissapointing? Yes. But I don’t feel it’s completely downright dispicable. My list of complaints with Obama is large enough. This doesn’t need to be added on top of everything else.

  33. Scott says:

    @SSgt

    “Let’s not resort to being two year old’s and start name calling.”
    Exactly right.

    “we have a president who is decreasing our countries military strength by closing military bases and decreasing it’s “man/woman power”

    How so?

    “The other presidents also caught a raft of crap for it too if memory serves me.”

    Your memory must serve you much better than mine because I do not remember any thing resembling the present day uproar any single year during George H.W. missing 4 consecutive years, let alone any kind of accumulated criticism from missing year, after year, after year, after year.

    “Why did he break with tradition? That is the question that should be asked.”

    Because naively and foolishly, he did not anticipate this kind of overblown reaction. He should have, every step he takes is likened to holocaust by the people who are a making this into such a big deal.

    The main problem is that there does in fact appear to be a double standard, and no one seems to want to admit that Reagan, who missed 4 of 8 Arlington Memorial Day ceremonies, and George H.W. Bush who missed 4 of 4, certainly did not face this kind of reaction.

    I have to agree with Mataconis, this is just another symptom of ODS.