Hit the sales to honor our presidents

first_imgOur history is freighted with bigger events to commemorate than recalling 40-some presidents. Presidents Day has become a major marketing tool. Advertisers for virtually everything roll out their annual sales pitch tied to the holiday. For some time it has been associated with bargain-basement prices: television sets for one cent, followed by a mad rush and crush at the store’s opening. It literally cheapens the day. President’s Day? Who exactly are we honoring? The hypocrisy is that this holiday routinely ennobles all those who have held the office, regardless of merit. Is this a celebration of honesty? Grant and the Indian scandals of the 1860s and ’70s come to mind. Morality? Think of Clinton, Harding and Cleveland. Should this holiday remind us of the need to honor the Constitution and the laws of the land? Perhaps Watergate, Iran-Contra or a questionable suspension of civil rights occurs to you. (I was thinking of Lincoln on that last one, not more recent commanders-in-chief, but I guess Presidents’ Day honors them, too.) IT’S that time of year again: The day when banks close, the mail doesn’t come and public schools take a holiday to honor our chief executives, past and present. Yet the event’s so unimportant that we haven’t figured out how to punctuate the subject we honor on this holiday. Check the newspaper ads. Is it Presidents Day? President’s Day? Or Presidents’ Day? Most school kids have another day off this month to salute Abraham Lincoln. If the teachers union could figure out a way to nudge Lincoln’s and George Washington’s birthdays closer together to make a four-day weekend, they’d do it. I enjoyed the day off when teaching. Our history department used it as an opportunity to camp out at Joshua Tree or Red Rock Canyon. But from the standpoint of commemorating anything, this holiday is a waste. I hate President(s, ‘s, s’ ) Day. What was once a day to honor the “father of our country” has now been lost in mealy mouthed political correctness and crass commercialism. So instead of the traditional cherry tree and dollar-across-the-Potomac tidbits, what do we get now? Basically, nothing. George will hardly be mentioned. And no one wants to talk about Polk, Tyler or Silent Cal. There may be something deeper at work here. Call it what you will, but it’s a subtle form of brainwashing by the in crowd. Honor Washington and a little of it rubs off on whoever is in office now. Use George to spread a blanket of roses over all his successors, including the incumbent. America may need heroic icons. Some may even say we are obsessed with them. But glorified dead presidents needn’t be among them. Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly Pomona. Write to him by e-mail at reshaffer@csupomona.edu. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more