Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Weekly Opinion Editorial
Monday February 18th is President’s Day. It wasn’t always so. I remember when we celebrated President George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd, not on the third Monday of February so federal workers could have a long weekend. President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is February 12th and it is still a legal holiday in eight(8) states.
In 1968, Congress was determined to create a system of federal Monday holidays and could have cared less about the two Presidents whose birthdays were in February. They renamed the holiday, Presidents Day. It wasn’t a popular decision because citizens rightly predicted that Washington and Lincoln’s identity and legacy would be lost in the change. Now most school children are taught this is a day to honor all U.S. Presidents. The truth is some presidents don’t deserve honoring.
In 1999, bills were introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate to specify that the legal public holiday once referred to as Washington's Birthday be "officially" called by that name once again. Sadly, both bills died in committee.
Actually four U.S. Presidents were born in the month of February- Washington, Harrison, Lincoln, and Reagan. William Henry Harrison served only 32 days as president, dying of pneumonia after catching cold. He got the cold delivering a two hour inaugural speech(still the longest in history) in freezing weather, an accomplishment not really worthy of a federal holiday. Let’s look at the accomplishments of the other three.
Ronald Wilson Reagan is the president born in February(6th) that Americans are most familiar with. That is because most of America lived through his two term presidency. Reagan was an effective chief executive who restored patriotism in America. Reagan never thought of himself as a politician. He never lusted for power or elective office. He preferred to see himself as a simple citizen who had been called upon to come to the aid of the nation he so loved. His mission, as he saw it, was to free his fellow citizens from the clutches of an overreaching federal government, and to rid the world of the tyranny of Communism. Reagan left the White House with the highest approval rating of any modern president. He developed Alzheimer's disease and died in 2004. His greatest legacy is his hard line stand against the Soviet Union and the Eastern block literally brought down communism in those countries.
Most Americans know something about Abraham Lincoln. He is often cited as being our greatest president. Lincoln is given credit for saving the nation and that may very well be true, but what most Americans do not know is that Lincoln was the first president to greatly expand the powers of the presidency. Lincoln went to war without a declaration of war by Congress. He believed the Executive branch of government was not subordinate to Congress or the courts. He said that in times of crisis or war the President is literally responsible for the well-being and survival of the nation. Lincoln's legacy was his ability to energize and mobilize the nation by appealing to its best ideals while acting "with malice towards none" in the pursuit of an enduring Union. No president in American history ever faced a greater crisis than Lincoln and no President- before or since- has accomplished as much.
George Washington’s tenure in office set America on a path that has endured now for over 200 years. He established precedents that have lasted for generations and did more to flesh out the skeleton of the presidential office than anyone could have expected or predicted. As one scholar says, “Washington invented tradition as he went along." His actions, more than those of any other Founding Father, became a part of the "unwritten Constitution." Washington's established department heads in the new government, setting a precedent for today’s modern cabinet as part of the President's office. Washington could have become a king of the new country if he had wished, but by his actions and words, he set the standard for two presidential terms. He retired to his beloved Mount Vernon to live out his last years. Washington hated political parties and career politicians. He said, “The people must remain ever vigilant against tyrants masquerading as public servants.”
On Monday as you enjoy the day off, remember we are honoring men who led America in times of crisis. Instead of just eating a piece of cherry pie or buying new sheets, pass on the reason we are honoring these men to the next generation.