Before we get to the actual story, let’s take a quick trivia quiz. Who was the only President in the past 30 years to visit Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day every year of his presidency? It wasn’t Ronald Reagan, who spent one year in Normandy and at least one other at his ranch in California. It wasn’t George W. Bush, either, although he was also at Normandy the one year he missed. George H. W. Bush, a veteran himself, never attended ceremonies at Arlington, sending Dan Quayle in his stead. In fact, it was Bill Clinton who made eight Memorial Day appearances at Arlington National Cemetery.
With that in mind, the Washington Post reports on Barack Obama’s travel plans this holiday weekend:
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.” …
But other veterans say they’re not disturbed by Obama’s decision. “We don’t really see the big deal, so long as he’s taking the time to honor our fallen war heroes throughout Memorial Day weekend,” said Ryan Gallucci, spokesman forAMVETS. ” . . . Arlington is certainly not the only place our fallen heroes are buried, so why not pay your respects to veterans around the country?”
We’ve received quite a bit of e-mail on this subject, and the Post notes that some conservative bloggers have blasted Obama for skipping the ceremonies at Arlington. Some make the distinction that the nation is at war, and the President belongs at Arlington for symbolic purposes. However, Obama will attend ceremonies at another national cemetery in Illinois, as noted above. That makes it a little difficult to represent this as “disrespecting the troops,” an argument that comes close to Obama’s Memorial Day fumble in 2008 by confusing it with Veterans Day.
When it comes to symbolism, though, emotions run high, so let’s do a poll. What should Obama do on Memorial Day?