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.