Obama omits 'under God' from reading of Gettysburg Address

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Published by: Dan Calabrese on Tuesday November 19th, 2013

And the White House explanation is hard to believe.

First watch Obama's delivery of the speech. The omission occurs at 1:35.

Now the back story: Ken Burns assembled a long list of prominent figures, including all living presidents, to give their own deliveries of the speech - then he mashed them together into one. Here is the mashup:

For the moment let's dispense with the discussion about whether some of these people deserved to be included, and keep the focus on those two words. As you see, in the mashup version, the words "under God" are included, delivered by Jimmy Carter. According to this story from Washington's WMAL Radio, all the participants when reading their full versions included "under God," with the exception of Obama.

So what's that?

The explanation from Obama's people is that he was working from an earlier draft of the text, known as the "Nicolay copy," which did not include "under God." Lincoln added the phrase later in the drafting process, but before he actually delivered the speech on this date 150 years ago. The only version upon which Lincoln conferred final approval was the "Bliss copy," which is the one he delivered. The source for that is no less an authority than Robert Todd Lincoln.

So let's say for the sake of argument that Obama didn't intentionally leave "under God" out of the address, but was merely working from a version that didn't include it. Why would he work from the Nicolay copy when surely someone in the White House had to know that was not the final version and not the speech Lincoln actually delivered? Is it really conceivable that no one involved with this project knew the primary difference between Nicolay and Bliss was "under God"?

Then again, is that explanation plausible at all? If Ken Burns coordinated this project and produced such that all participants read full versions, and then he mashed them all together, would Burns really leave it to each individual participant to scrounge up their own version of the text rather than simply come prepared with text in hand for the participant to read?

Or is it more plausible to believe that Obama omitted "under God" because he really just didn't want to say it?

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