COMMENTARY 763.2 The Presidents Day Un-Celebration — Honoring Not Just the Great, But All U.S. Presidents

If you’re not going to school or work today, it’s because it’s a national holiday. The country used to celebrate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln separately, but in 1971 Richard Nixon and Congress, in order to create a perpetual three-day weekend, merged the two holidays into a brand new one called “Presidents’ Day,” to honor all U.S. Presidents.

The end result is that we equate the lives and leadership of two of the greatest men in our history with those of a diverse parade of men ranging from extraordinary to mediocre, and noble to dishonorable. What’s more, we reduce this and other days set aside to honor crucial people and historical events to no more than a day off. I doubt whether you’ll be reading many articles or seeing TV specials reminding you of the magnificent character and contributions of Washington or Lincoln.

I fear that the failure of our government, our schools and our media to emphatically remind us about our roots in a way that nurtures both pride and gratitude fosters an unhealthy, self-absorbed entitlement mentality. Sure, we’ll gladly take the day off for Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and shoot off fireworks on July 4th. But we’re too busy or blase to pause to reconnect with our heritage and experience real appreciation for our heroes and their sacrifices.

Despite the initial surge of patriotism following September 11, I fear Americans are an increasingly ungrateful people, unwilling to appreciate what we have and why we have it.

And we wonder why our kids don’t appreciate what they have and what we do for them.

If we keep treating our most important values as meaningless relics, that’s exactly what they’ll become.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Worth reading:  Commentary on Lincoln,  25 Most Profound Lincoln quotes and  8 Witty Lincoln Quotes

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Comments 6

  1. “the lives and leadership of two of the greatest men in our history with those of a diverse parade of men ranging from extraordinary to mediocre and noble to dishonorable.”

    So, Michael, why not say something about the character of these men . . . e.g. George Washington owned slaves. And just what makes someone who is elected president of our country ‘mediocre’?

    1. Post

      I understand your point but I have before, and doubtless will again, point out that I do not reserve my admiration and appreciation for people who have lived perfect lives or possessed flawless character. If i did, there would be no historical figure to admire (I exclude for this purpose religious icons such as Jesus, Moses, Mohammad and Buddha as they are in a different category). Deficiencies and shortcomings — some indisputable and some arguable of all great characters in world history including others I admire: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Madam Curie, Einstein, and Albert Schweitzer, should be discussed and considered in comprehensive biographies to get a fuller view of these folks, blemishes and all but to require a mention of all shortcomings while making a tribute undermines the significance of their accomplishments. It is, i suppose, another reflection of the cynical vs. the positive perspective.I am comfortable acknowledging and saluting the full part of the glass, leaving for other settings discussion of deficiencies. Lincoln and Washington may not have been perfect in your eyes but which Presidents do you think were better? Do you think there is any value in distinguishing among them or they all of one lot?

      1. You make my point for me: no one, including presidents, are perfect. So why lift up some and not others? To say ‘Obama is creating slaves . . . ‘ does not speak to the question of the why Lincoln and Washington are lifted up?

  2. It is interesting to note that in Utah the official state recognized name of the Holiday is “Washington and Lincoln Day.” Several years ago the Utah State Legislature decided that not all Presidents are worth celebrating. Despite ones personal feelings toward a particular man, all Americans should celebrate and appreciate the office of President. Not to do so encourages a culture of “selective respect.”

  3. In Maryland, 4-H’ers and FFA students from across the state spend President’s Day in Annapolis, our state capital. They learn about Maryland government, have delegates and senators address them, tour the Maryland State House (the oldest continuous state house in the country) and meet with their legislators in the afternoon. They also have the opportunity to stay in the evening and watch the Legislature in action if they wish. I believe this is an excellent way for young people to live and learn their Citizenship. Despite any political leanings, we still live in the greatest Democracy and it is worth celebrating!

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