It’s that time of year again. Presidents' Day, an annual excuse for a three-day weekend and a white sale, is upon us.
It wasn’t always that way. Back when children believed the future president chopped down his father’s cherry tree, George Washington was revered. Now, after several decades of increasing political correctness, the sense of reverence we once felt for our nation’s founders has diminished to the point where some people find the mere idea of it laughable.
Washington was a man among men. Planter, surveyor, warrior, and leader, he was for decades the very symbol of the nation he was twice unanimously elected to lead. Without Washington, there would be no United States, at least not as we currently know it. He was, perhaps, that most unique of historical figures: the indispensable man. [Read: The Evolving Biography and Myths of George Washington.]
Unfortunately, the national observance of significance has been subsumed, thanks to commercial and political pressure ever since 1968, when Congress, under the provisions of the so-called “Long Weekend Act,” moved his birthday from February 22 to the nearest convenient Monday, the three-day weekend being more important than the formal recognition of Washington’s accomplishments.
President Richard M. Nixon, who probably suspected even then that it was unlikely his birthday would ever become a national holiday, seized the opportunity—as I have written before—to remember of all the former presidents, not just the first. Thus was the place “the father of our country” occupied on the calendar eclipsed by lesser lights, aiding his slow descent from atop the pantheon of near-immortals whose founding vision has guided this nation for more than 225 years. [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]
By law, the holiday retains his name. Otherwise Washington—commander of the American troops in the War for Independence, first president of the United States, symbol of honor, dignity, and honesty—is being overlooked by the nation he helped bring forth out of tyranny. The day must be reclaimed in his honor, and his alone, as part of an effort to reaffirm our shared national heritage.