Monday, February 18, 2013

Against P Day

(My regular, rerun post for the holiday)


Presidents Day is a terrible idea for a holiday.  Just an awful idea.  In this republic, there's absolutely no good reason to take a day to honor our presidents.

On the other hand, Washington's Birthday is a perfectly good idea.  If we're going to honor great Americans, and we should, I'm not going to argue with those who put George Washington first on the list of those to be honored.  In fact, the official federal holiday is Washington's Birthday, but lots of states have renamed it to Presidents Day or something similar.

The consensus Three Greatest Presidents are Washington, Lincoln, and (Franklin) Roosevelt, and I wouldn't argue with any celebration of those three. The other two Greatest Men Who Were Presidents are Jefferson and the sadly undercommemorated Madison, and I'm also on board with honoring them (I'm not a huge Jefferson fan, but I don't really object to his status as a great American. Want to argue Adams?  Ike?  Take it to comments).  On the other hand, I'm also pretty comfortable with Washington and King being the only two Americans honored with national holidays.

So, Happy Washington's Birthday, even if it isn't actually Washington's birthday, and even if most of what you're seeing are references to Presidents Day, President's Day, or Presidents' Day -- any way you spell it, a really bad idea.  Which reminds me -- if you happen to think of James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, or Richard Nixon today, I think what you're supposed to do is spit twice over your left shoulder to avoid bad luck.

17 comments:

  1. If you want to distinguish "awesomeness of person X who was POTUS" from "awesomeness of person X's POTUS-ship" then I think you have to put JQA way way up near the top of that list. Awesome diplomat before he was POTUS and probably the awesomest post-POTUS career of any POTUS, ever. Plus we pretty much owe him the Smithsonian Institutions, which as a Greater DC resident is a pretty big debt of gratitude.

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    1. Agreed on JQA, also (seriously) Garfield. Great guy.

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  2. Well then, for me I'll consider this happy LBJ day as my favourite president!

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  3. Here's something you might enjoy, then: TV writer Ken Levine has a special guest blogger for today. It's former president Chester Arthur.

    http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2013/02/a-former-us-president-is-todays-guest.html

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  4. I believe I'd place Abraham Lincoln way, way ahead of President Washington. I know we can't separate an historical figure from the times or wisdom of that life, but I kind of gag at putting a slaveholder above someone who faced the opposite direction.

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    1. Washington freed all his slaves in his will and seems to have had fairly respectable views on the issue.

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    2. And of course, Burr neglects Lincon's long history of not objecting to or seeking to undo slavery in the southern states so long as they stayed in the Union. Take the great man as his word.

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  5. I'm not a big fan of Jefferson either. It seems like some of his best moments were when he was being hypocritical (DoI, Louisiana Purchase). His fight for secularism is the only one off the top of my head that doesn't seem mired in hypocrisy. I'm a much bigger fan of Madison. So I'd definitely like to see Madison celebrated more. But I probably wouldn't object too strongly to Jefferson being celebrated.

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    1. My favorite Jefferson story is when Ben Franklin locked him in a steamy hotel room at the end of June in a city about to be overrun by cholera (?) I think, so that he could write the Declaration of Independence, a piece of prose that still brings tears to my 47-year-old eyes.

      Some people need some serious pressure to produce their best work.

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  6. Teddy Roosevelt gets overshadowed by his cousin, but he did a lot to shape 20th century foreign and domestic policy and deserves some credit as one of the most influential presidents. He was responsible for the early foundations of the modern American regulatory state (including the introduction and enforcement of labor, food, drug, consumer, and environmental regulations). Short of FDR and LBJ, few modern presidents have had such a profound influence on domestic policy. Though perhaps it is a big black mark against him that he did almost nothing to move forward on civil rights.

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  7. I've never been that clear on why Washington is considered such a great president. However, I think that "Roadrunner" would make an excellent state song for Massachusetts.

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    1. Probably not for his presidency so much as who he was and that it happened at all. It wasn't like he didn't stick his neck waaaay out there for us.

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  8. Heh.

    On GW: no one had ever been a president of a republic before. Brand new invention. I can't even imagine to think of all the things that could have gone wrong, but didn't. So even if for nothing else, that's pretty good.

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  9. Not to mention that Washington could have remained on after two terms (there was no limit then) with little argument from his fellow countrymen and did not. That set a precedent which was only codified when the Republicans finally got revenge on FDR posthumously in 1951.

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  10. His inept handling of the War of 1812 - both run-up and execution - should exclude Madison from anyone's list.

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  11. I agree that Presidents day isn't the best idea for a holiday, and that celebrating the greatest Americans is a better idea, but who decides who is picked? We have a Martin Luther King day, but not a Ben Franklin day? Not an Einstein day?

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    1. The answer to that one is that it's decided politically, which is appropriate because it's a political nation.

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