The third Monday of February is known as Presidents Day in the United States. In the beginning, the day was intended to celebrate the birthday of the first president of our country, George Washington. Today we use it to commemorate all 45 Presidents of the United States.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention that we do not celebrate the legislative branch or judicial branch, but only the executive branch of our government. As our second president John Adams remarked, “In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.” Our various branches of government have often poked fun of one another.
Presidents, as we well know, are not immune from criticism. Jimmy Carter said about his time as president since he left office, “My esteem in this country has gone up substantially. It is very nice now when people wave at me, they use all their fingers.”
Somehow over the years, since we now have almost full and immediate access to information on public figures, including presidents, our respect for the office of president is in decline. It used to be said, you do not have to respect the man, but you do have to respect the office. Somehow, I think this maxim has fallen by the wayside.
Historians and our history books often reinterpret our presidents in a new light, or try to view them in the prism of modern society. Knowingly misrepresenting our history constitutes intellectual harassment according to Michael Rosenbaum. Historical negationism which is watering down history to make something politically correct is dangerous. Utilizing revisionism or misrepresenting a former president’s true political position is inappropriate at best and Orwellian at worst.
For example, many presidents have had their race, ethnicity and even sexual orientation debated. And religion is almost universally questioned, when the faith issue is brought up. Our former leaders, or at least their very being, are no longer accepted at face value.
Lyndon Johnson made an astute observation by pointing out that the “presidency has made every man who occupied it, no matter how small, bigger than he was; and no matter how big, not big enough for its demands.” Nobody is born to be President of the United States, and the on-the job-training is unlike any other endeavor the office holder is likely to face.
Perhaps we can simply honor all of our presidents, and give the nastiness of modern politics a much needed day off. We cannot deny that the ugliness of politics today is offensive to our own dignity and self-worth. Everyone elected as a public servant is entitled to a basic level of human decency. It is important that we remind ourselves of this fact on this President’s Day.
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville