Monday, February 17, 2014

George Washington's Very Merry Unbirthday

It's the third Monday in February and time for the holiday we know as Washington's Birthday. Research tell us that George Washington was actually born on February 22, 1732 or February 11, 1731 according to the Old Style calendar. At one time we actually had a Washington's Birthday holiday on February 22 but that changed in 1971 when the "Monday holiday rule" took effect. The rule was a postlude to a torturous twenty year saga of federal bickering, ineptitude, and state's rights issues over the national failure to honor our presidents, Abraham Lincoln in particular, with their very own holiday. The fallout left us with what is in reality a Washington's Unbirthday holiday and a three-day weekend. Honest Abe didn't make the cut.

Never keen to let a good shopping opportunity pass, American capitalists liked the idea of a President's Day, especially one that could be stretched over a full week . They saw the advantage of the patriotic fervor generated by matching silhouettes of Lincoln - log cabins - and Washington - axes and cherries - positioned over merchandise and big red signs reading "SALE." The concept caught on. Today, about all Americans have left with the third Monday in February is the opportunity to buy stuff, mostly stuff they don't need. On the federal level, this not only leaves us with nothing for Old Abe but also nothing for the other presidents save George and his big unbirthday.

I figure one could sooth this insult by ignoring the mess and shopping the day away. Even that strategy may not work. I seriously doubt shoppers can beat the price and associated costs that one can enjoy from on a 24/7 basis. A bit of research and we can find similar sites for those big, big ticket items like cars.

So what is one to do? Perhaps it's best to forget the issues of a misnomer and the neglected presidents and return to Lincoln and Washington as our February presidents. And they have more in common as presidents who share the quality of American exceptionalism, a term we've been hearing more often these days as the republic drifts ever deeper into its golden years. With that in mind, I suggest readers find a comfortable setting and reflect on these men and their place in the American experience. If readers need a bit of encouragement here are two statements, one so very brief, the other a bit longer, both reflecting the greatness of their authors and the hope they shared for our unique national experience:

Washington's Farewell Address, written in 1796 on his coming departure from the presidency;

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863.

A version of this post appeared in 2012.

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