Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Wrongheaded Holiday

I intended to publish this post last week, but between having a job and preparing for the four-day camping trip we took over the weekend, I didn’t finish writing and proofreading it before it was time to go.  And now that Presidents’ Day has come and gone, it may not seem timely. 


But hey, the topic is still a hot one for me.  And when you consider that today is halfway between the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, it actually is timely.  So here it is:  I have a problem with the whole notion of Presidents’ Day.


When I was a youngster, every calendar in America noted Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday on February 12th and George Washington’s Birthday on February 22nd.  Those dates were observed as holidays should be:  By actually focusing on what it is that’s being commemorated.  The nation publicly honored Lincoln and Washington, with many people openly contemplating how the deeds of the two statesmen continue to enrich lives many years after they died.  Their lives were discussed at length in the nation’s schools.


Back then, we heard little about Presidents’ Day even though it received legislative designation the year I was born.  Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday were the Real McCoys, and we knew exactly what those days were all about.  However, they started getting less attention as the 1980’s progressed.  A movement bubbled up that sought to make a big splash over Presidents’ Day.  In no small part, the movement was driven by merchants and their advertisers, who were eager to have a weekend between Christmas and Memorial Day become known for sales.


By the time the 1990’s got into swing, Presidents’ Day was a big deal and the other two passed with little notice.  Today, calendars trumpet Presidents’ Day but do not even mention Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays.  And therein lies the problem:  By carelessly lumping all presidents together for a generic third-Monday holiday, and in the process eradicating February’s historic contemplation of Lincoln and Washington, we act as though all presidents are created equal, despite the fact they are not.


Presidents’ Day places the corrupt alongside the honorable, the cowardly alongside the brave, the inept alongside the able  and makes absolutely no distinction between them.  Despte being a draft dodger, Bill Clinton is granted the same reverence as some of the men who put their lives on the line by signing the Declaration of Independence.  And Richard Nixon is granted the same respect on economic matters as Ronald Reagan, even though the results of his active-government approach to the economy were remarkably inferior to those of Reagan's laissez faire approach.  It’s enough to make me nauseous.

One of the greatest problems America faces today is the deterioration of its educational systems, especially when it comes to historical education.  Another great problem is people’s reluctance to identify who is good at something and who is bad at it, for fear of offending anyone’s sensibilities. Unfortunately, Presidents’ Day embodies both of those problems.  And even more unfortunately, I don’t hear anybody saying so.

1 comment:

Michelle said...


I have been dying to tell you this. I was volunteering at my kids' school last week and overheard a teacher talking about Abraham Lincoln. She told them, "Abraham Lincoln fought for people who had to work without getting paid." I couldn't believe my ears. She couldn't say slaves? Are you kidding me? I asked my kids today if they knew what slaves were. They both said they have heard the word but have no clue the meaning. How sad is this? We now have to re-write history to be p.c.? Poor Lincoln, what a great guy, he JUST created payroll, nothing more. He didn't free anyone according to the new logic!