The powers and duties of the president of the United States are set forth in the Constitution, but there's one not mentioned that nevertheless all great presidents fulfill -- to be the voice of moral conscience for the nation and the ceremonial witness attending its most significant moments.
Abraham Lincoln fulfilled that duty. It took him to Gettys- burg, Pa., a few months after a terrible battle had been fought that paved the way for the eventual Union victory in the Civil War. The speech President Lincoln made on Nov. 19, 1863, to dedicate a cemetery to the fallen was the postscript that set the war on a new moral path and the nation to a new birth of freedom.
With the 150th anniversary of the battle fittingly memorialized in July, the commemoration of the Gettysburg Address requires the same noble postscript Lincoln provided. Yet President Barack Obama intends to stay away.
Instead, it has been announced that the administration will send U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to share the role of keynote speaker with historian James McPherson. Nothing against these distinguished figures, but the president's intention is as mystifying as it is dismaying.
Mr. Obama, a fine orator in his own right, has a well-known interest and affection for Lincoln and took the oath of office on a Bible used by the 16th president. It is an affront to history that the Great Emancipator's memory is being disrespected by one who is the living proof of emancipation's final triumph.
Mr. President, heed the call of duty -- come to Gettysburg on Nov. 19, honor Lincoln and your country. Speak briefly if you wish -- Lincoln did -- but speak.