That time of year is once again almost upon us: Presidents' Day, the perennial excuse for a three-day weekend and a chance to buy stuff on sale. Commercialized beyond even Christmas, the holiday has lost its meaning.
It wasn't always that way. President George Washington was once revered, back when children still believed he chopped down his father's cherry tree. Now the sense of reverence and awe in which we once held the nation's founders has been lost, replaced by a continuing desire to "humanize" them in an effort to cheapen their achievements.
Washington was a man among men: planter, surveyor, inventor, politician, warrior, leader. For decades he was the very symbol of the nation he was twice elected unanimously to lead. Without Washington there would be no United States. He was, unique among most historical figures, the truly indispensable man.
The honor previously accorded his birth has been lost 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. In doing so they held that a three-day weekend was more important than any 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 Congress gave him—as I have written before—to proclaim the opportunity to remember of all the former presidents. "The father of our country" was thus reduced to a status equal to the lesser lights who occupied the nation's highest office, men like Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding, and Andrew Johnson.
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.
It's time to change all that. Congress should enact and President Barack Obama should sign a law re-establishing February 22 as the official observance of Washington's birthday. The nation needs a dose of historical perspective. Such a move would provide it.