George Washington successfully led a small army of untrained and undersupplied volunteers against the most powerful empire in the world. He held together a quarrelsome group of the greatest political minds in history. And he became the father of the most free, most influential, and most generous nation on earth.
And yet we continue to persist with this unclear and uninspiring “Presidents Day” nonsense, where we lump the likes of Millard Fillmore and Jimmy Carter in with our homage to the birthday of “The Indispensable Man” who was “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
Moreover, in our modern political discourse the name “Washington,” which was once only uttered with a feeling of profound respect, has unfortunately become synonymous with dysfunction, dishonesty, and downright villainy.
“Washington is broken.”
“Washington is corrupt.”
“Washington is a cesspool.”
A foreigner ignorant of our nation’s history or geography might even assume the name “Washington” is an altogether pejorative word in our language.
While these commonly hurled insults are obviously aimed at our capital city’s political elite, I cannot help but wonder what Washington would think of how we abuse his name, a name he worked so hard to honor during his lifetime, and a name that held our nation tightly together during our earliest and most delicate hours.
This should break, or at least severely dint, the hearts of all decent and patriotic Americans.
So, what should we do about it?
We should stop it.
First, we should stop using the all-encompassing “Presidents Day” phrase, choosing instead to exclusively honor Washington on his birthday (which is February 22, by the way).
This should be simple to do because, as you may be surprised to learn, “Presidents Day” isn’t even a real holiday. The federal government officially titles the third Monday in February “Washington’s Birthday,” and Alabama also honors the man with an official state holiday bearing his name. Most other states do the same. The name “Presidents Day” is just an informal invention of bureaucrats and advertising agencies.
So there’s no Act of Congress to be passed. No law to be enacted. No proclamations needed to be written and read aloud. No debate to be had, even. We simply call the holiday by its official name – Washington’s Birthday – and use that term whenever we have the opportunity to write or say the name of the day we’re observing.
Why make a fuss about this?
Besides it being right and proper to call things by their real names, Americans need heroes and we should persistently highlight examples of the best among us, those few who have risen to a near ideal state of manhood, or womanhood, and citizenship. They serve as a true north we can set our internal compass toward – real heroes, not make-believe – and Washington was one of our best.
Lumping his shining example in with other, lesser presidents suggests that the best were no greater than the least.
The second thing we should stop doing is using his name when specifically describing the unfortunate characteristics of the city that bears his name. The terms “D.C.” or “the federal government” serve as fine replacements.
It also almost goes without saying that there are those who wish to tear away or rewrite the pages of our nation’s history and sully the names of those great Americans whose hard-won nation we have so effortlessly, and in their case so ungratefully, inherited. They want us to forget Washington completely, or only remember that he once owned slaves. But their opinions are both uninformed and contemptible, and should be left alone to echo among the rabble that holds them.
Meanwhile, for an example of the level of reverence we should show when speaking Washington’s name, let us look no further than our second greatest president – Abraham Lincoln.
“Washington’s is the mightiest name of earth … to add brightness to the sun, or glory to the name of Washington, is alike impossible, “Lincoln once wrote. “In solemn awe pronounce the name, and in its naked deathless splendor leave it shining on.”
And so it should be.
Happy birthday, President Washington.