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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Away with Presidents’ Day

    Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
    Justyn Dillingham

    This Monday, we should celebrate the birth of the country’s greatest man. We should, but we won’t.

    At a time when Americans have very little reason to feel patriotic, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, Feb. 12, ought to be a time to meditate on much of what is best about our country. I don’t mean simply Lincoln’s accomplishments, though there’s nothing wrong with celebrating a man whose devotion to liberty saved the United States from being torn apart by the greedy ambitions of a gang of rich slave-owners.

    I’m thinking of the Lincoln who, as a young man, urged us to love our country in the same way as a friend of his, “”partly because it was his country, but mostly because it was a free country.”” This is the noblest sort of patriotism and the only sort that makes sense to me as an American.

    Of course, we won’t hear about any of this on Monday. Instead, later this month we’ll celebrate something most of us know as Presidents’ Day, which must rank as the most uncelebrated holiday on the calendar. Even Groundhog Day gets more attention.

    Presidents’ Day doesn’t technically exist. As far as the federal calendar is concerned, the third Monday in February remains George Washington’s Birthday, a holiday first celebrated while Washington was still president. In fact, every year Congress celebrates the occasion by having someone read Washington’s farewell address, in which the Father of our Country urged us to avoid foreign wars – advice that must sound more forlorn every year.

    Alas, in the interest of saving valuable holiday space, 28 states have merged the Washington holiday with Lincoln’s birthday under a generic title that insultingly groups them with the likes of Warren G. Harding and Richard Nixon. (It’s far from the worst “”state holiday”” offender: Did you know there’s a couple of Southern states that combine Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Robert E. Lee Day? A couple of peas in a pod, those two.)

    I see no need to honor Woodrow Wilson – whose suppression of civil liberties makes Dick Cheney look like a piker – with a holiday. Nor do I see much reason to take a day off school to remember Calvin Coolidge.

    Nor do most Americans, I suspect. The only people who give a damn about Presidents’ Day are department stores that use it to hawk weekend sales. The reason for this is that Americans, by and large, do not revere our presidents.

    I don’t just mean that many dislike our current president. Whatever fond memories we may have of Bill Clinton, even people who voted for him were well aware of his weaknesses. Americans do not revere their leaders simply because they happen to be leaders.

    And rightly so. Reverence for leaders leads to tyranny. Americans have a healthy skepticism of power that stretches from the Revolutionary War to “”The Colbert Report.””

    Thomas Jefferson said that every American must be able “”to judge for himself what will secure or endanger his freedom,”” and an Adolf Hitler could never win over a people on the watch for despotism.

    Presidents’ Day, however, grinds away at this fundamental American belief by urging a sentimental view of our leaders that suggests they are all worthy of celebration. Most of our presidents have barely been worth a Pez dispenser, let alone a monument on the National Mall.

    If we forget what made Washington and Lincoln great, we’ll forget why we should hold our leaders to the very highest standards. Washington and Lincoln lived up to those standards; most of our leaders do not.

    It’s time to put an end to Presidents’ Day and restore Washington’s Birthday to its proper name and place, as a day to remember the man who gave us our republic.

    And if the Republicans want to get back on our good side, they ought to start lobbying to have Lincoln, the first great leader of their party, the man who saved the Union and freed the slaves, honored with a federal holiday.

    That said, if we decided to honor every president with a holiday, I wouldn’t object. Who could argue with 43 days off school?

    Justyn Dillingham is copy chief for the Arizona Daily Wildcat and is a junior majoring in political science and history. He can be reached at

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