Tuesday, February 17, 2009

George and Abe--Demoted by Presidents' Day

This morning I went to hear my husband speak at an event for Presidents' Day sponsored by the DAR. I happen to be a DAR (Daughter of the American Revolution) as my mom's lineage goes back to the 1600s and the family homestead in Linville, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. I visited it a few years ago, and spent an afternoon in the historical library there, engrossed in their local history logs.

It was peculiar to be in a group today where my presence notably reduced the average age--but at the same time, the ambiance was dignified, sincere and uplifting. DAR officers wore panels of gold lapel pins striped down their chests. A lady wore a DAR scarf, one that I own, since the organization effectively gains donations by sending out "gifts" (the polyester scarf, address labels, imprinted note pads, calendars of historic places) and tugging on the purse by way of the guilt.

I must say, there's no downside to the DAR, whose patriotic members devote their energies to glorifying our history and educating our youth to its importance. The event today featured the Cornucopia Orchestra, white-haired musicians in sprightly red vests who serenaded us with nostalgic marching tunes, early-century pop songs and a tribute to each branch of the armed services. As the distinctive military tunes began, the conductor stood at rigid attention and offered a formal salute to the ladies and gentlemen who stood in the audience for recognition. I had a lump in my throat.

And I full-out blubbered as the entire audience sang along to "God Bless America." The strength of feeling for our nation was truly stirring. My husband addressed widely-believed lies about church-state separation, government rescue of financial woes, and moral decline. He also described the fascinating history that showed the "forgotten" presidents between 1880-1900 Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland, Harrison and McKinley) in an extremely positive light--when the gross national product lept 250% and an economic downturn was handled correctly (by a Democratic president) by a refusal to allow the federal government to mess with the free market by bestowing favors on one segment of the nation over another.

I'm glad we could give these Presidents their due, but still, something's amiss. When I was a kid, only two presidents in particular were hailed yearly, two monumental individuals whose contributions and talents changed the shape of our nation: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. In the weeks leading up to Feb. 12, Honest Abe's warted profile was seen in every classroom, and on his birthday itself, education and commerce paused. Back in school on Feb. 13, we began feting George Washington, climaxing in our salute on his birthday, the holiday February 22.
Ask a kid now to name George or Abe's birth dates, and you'll get a blank stare. All the presidents are now equated--George with The Worthless One; Abe with, oh, John Tyler (who's #6 on US News' "10 Worst Presidents" list). I think we ought to restore the two birthdays to their rightful places, and stop assuming that just becoming president means you're automatically deserving to stop the economy for a day.

Not that Presidents' Day liberates anyone other than schoolkids and postmen. Stores have huge sales (especially this year!) and entertainment emporiums from movie theaters to go-cart lots compete for bored kids' allowances. While teachers relax, those with white hair gather to sing patriotic songs and learn about heroic history.

Here's a suggestion: hold "President Bees" around the country--competitions where children show off their understanding of our nation's history and leaders. And make sure we remember the proper birthdays of the larger-than-life figures our nation was blessed to enjoy, rather than merely that all those White House guys are to thank for a three-day holiday the second weekend in February.

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