Abe and George deserve a parade

All of our parents remember where they were when JFK was shot. But do you remember what you did last Monday, Feb. 16?
An annual event, Presidents’ Day, came and went with the usual absence of a bang. A number of items went on sale again: water beds, shoes, winter clothing and even toilet paper — all of the goodies anyone could dream of.
To hammer home an abused cliche, poor George and Abe must be rolling over in their graves. Their achievements have been commemorated only in their likenesses on one and five dollar bills.
Yet, what this country owes them cannot be boiled down to money alone. Presidents Washington and Lincoln deserve more. Our thanks — and an end to the mockeries we see advertised this time of year — would be a simple start.
The reality of Presidents’ Day is that it has rapidly come to have as little to do with honoring the births of Washington and Lincoln as do modern Christmases have anything to do with the birth of Christ.
In our history of presidents, now two hundred years and running, Washington and Lincoln are the ones that most Americans at least consider special enough to appreciate. We need to do more than just consider their importance.
Even the harshest American critics must acknowledge that Washington and Lincoln stood for the best we could be. Face it, no matter how much mythology has been attached to Washington as “the father of the nation,” the first president took a handful of unruly colonists and helped them lay the foundation for the greatest beacon of liberal thought and democratic principles this world has seen.
And Lincoln, another kind of father, gave rebirth to that nation. Any one of his lessers would have undoubtedly faired worse. Without Lincoln, the Civil War would have left all of us as casualties.
Familiarizing ourselves with some of the historical events and achievements in these men’s lives is the least we can do to begin to understand what our nation can be. If we don’t, and remain content with lesser achievements from future presidents, they will be our end.
Such actions struck a chord with me earlier this winter. On a trip to Florida over break, I stopped at the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The site is humble, rugged, and, at the same time, majestic; much like the man who would leave the Kentucky wilderness to become — in the minds of many — our greatest president.
While standing in the alcove of a wooded area, looking uphill and into the edges of the blue grass lined forest, Lincoln’s legendary log cabin home could be seen in all its simplicity. From somewhere close to the middle of nowhere, this giant of a man climbed much greater hills to achieve what no one has since equalled.
His perseverance as president and his insistence that “a house divided cannot stand” is the only reason the Constitution still exists today. In an achievement perhaps even more remarkable, Lincoln ended slavery.
Make no mistake, the chief republican abolitionist demonstrated the wisdom necessary to implement the changes spelled out in the Emancipation Proclamation, finally giving a wicked, “peculiar” institution its death blow.
Everyone in this nation — those who have been oppressed and those who still are — owe Lincoln thanks for setting a standard of the lengths one person can go to end injustice.
His legacy — and Washington’s too — remains strong enough to inspire any young boy or girl to toy with the idea that American parents make no apology for suggesting: some day any one of us could be president. Despite what some presidents have done to the image of the office, it is, and will always be, a noble dream.
Sadly, the only mention of outstanding presidential affairs — past or present — that we heard of last Monday focused on a messy one with a big-mouthed intern.
If we are ever to appreciate the more admirable works of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, our efforts can be as easy as taking the moment to appreciate them as the best in their class and to appreciate the office for what it can be. One day out of the year isn’t too much to ask of our words and actions.
A mandatory day off from school and work, maybe even with some of the parades, parties and ceremonies we throw in for other holidays wouldn’t be so painful. Of course it’s not these kinds of external displays alone that would embed a deeper respect for great achievement. But consciousness leads to action. Why not push for a more constructive commemoration than the one we’ve got?
As it is, only federal and public offices are closed on Presidents’ Day. This roughly translates to: We get no mail.
If we are ever to appreciate the importance of the presidency and the value and good it can administer, Presidents’ Day must become a truly “public” holiday.
Legislation 27 years ago placed Washington and Lincoln in a class of their own by making them among the few figures in our history that we commemorate in some fashion. Christopher Columbus and Martin Luther King Jr. compose the rest of the small list. The four represent a fairly small body of personalities Americans value as part of who we are now.
Some segments of the population insist on injecting issues of racial hatred and sexism into the holiday events. Yet the celebrations have cut across ethnic and social divisions, emphasizing the achievements of these individuals above and beyond the scope of their peers.
Just to put it all into perspective, look at the emphasis we place on celebrating the folk-lorish achievements of St. Patrick and St. Valentine.
Yet, I doubt that at any time last Monday did any of us have the chance to consider even the possibility of associating courage, honesty, integrity or wisdom with the presidency. We have become so immersed in images, polls, advertising and spin messaging that we may lose hope for another Washington or Lincoln to come our way.
Simply letting postal workers and public employees off the hook for a day doesn’t count as a holiday. Presidents’ Day, like other patriotic days — Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July — should not be defined by the “public” or “private” sectors. Anyone who is part of the political underpinnings of our democracy — that is everyone — can appreciate excellence.
You and I can say what we want about the current state of the Office of the President of this country, exercising our rights to free speech, and still be patriotic. Even if you aren’t so inclined to show any kind of patriotism, we can all still appreciate the moments in American history where one or two great individuals have stepped into an appointed office and performed heroically. The list of our icons can include clergy, teachers, CEOs or politicians. Washington and Lincoln are among the few to have risen to the top.
Their spirits need to be kept alive in our collective memory. Until measures are taken, formal or informal, to make Presidents’ Day a true holiday, Washington and Lincoln will only join the ranks of the dead by a greater degree every year until they are ultimately forgotten. This is a price that no one can afford to pay — on sale or not.
Greg Borchard’s column appears every Thursday. He can be reached with comments via e-mail at [email protected]

An annual event, Presidents’ Day, came and went with the usual absence of a bang. A number of items went on sale again: water beds, shoes, winter clothing and even toilet paper — all of the goodies anyone could dream of.
To hammer home an abused cliche, poor George and Abe must be rolling over in their graves. Their achievements have been commemorated only in their likenesses on one and five dollar bills.
Yet, what this country owes them cannot be boiled down to money alone. Presidents Washington and Lincoln deserve more. Our thanks — and an end to the mockeries we see advertised this time of year — would be a simple start.
The reality of Presidents’ Day is that it has rapidly come to have as little to do with honoring the births of Washington and Lincoln as do modern Christmases have anything to do with the birth of Christ.
In our history of presidents, now two hundred years and running, Washington and Lincoln are the ones that most Americans at least consider special enough to appreciate. We need to do more than just consider their importance.
Even the harshest American critics must acknowledge that Washington and Lincoln stood for the best we could be. Face it, no matter how much mythology has been attached to Washington as “the father of the nation,” the first president took a handful of unruly colonists and helped them lay the foundation for the greatest beacon of liberal thought and democratic principles this world has seen.
And Lincoln, another kind of father, gave rebirth to that nation. Any one of his lessers would have undoubtedly faired worse. Without Lincoln, the Civil War would have left all of us as casualties.
Familiarizing ourselves with some of the historical events and achievements in these men’s lives is the least we can do to begin to understand what our nation can be. If we don’t, and remain content with lesser achievements from future presidents, they will be our end.
Such actions struck a chord with me earlier this winter. On a trip to Florida over break, I stopped at the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. The site is humble, rugged, and, at the same time, majestic; much like the man who would leave the Kentucky wilderness to become — in the minds of many — our greatest president.
While standing in the alcove of a wooded area, looking uphill and into the edges of the blue grass lined forest, Lincoln’s legendary log cabin home could be seen in all it’s simplicity. From somewhere close to the middle of nowhere, this giant of a man climbed much greater hills to achieve what no one has since equalled.
His perseverance as president and his insistence that “a house divided cannot stand” is the only reason the Constitution still exists today. In an achievement perhaps even more remarkable, Lincoln ended slavery.
Make no mistake, the chief republican abolitionist demonstrated the wisdom necessary to implement the changes spelled out in the Emancipation Proclamation, finally giving a wicked, “peculiar” institution its death blow.
Everyone in this nation — those who have been oppressed and those who still are — owe Lincoln thanks for setting a standard of the lengths one person can go to end injustice.
His legacy — and Washington’s too — remains strong enough to inspire any young boy or girl to toy with the idea that American parents make no apology for suggesting: some day any one of us could be president. Despite what some presidents have done to the image of the office, it is, and will always be, a noble dream.
Sadly, the only mention of outstanding presidential affairs — past or present — that we heard of last Monday focused on a messy one with a big-mouthed intern.
If we are ever to appreciate the more admirable works of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, our efforts can be as easy as taking the moment to appreciate them as the best in their class and to appreciate the office for what it can be. One day out of the year isn’t too much to ask of our words and actions.
A mandatory day off from school and work, maybe even with some of the parades, parties and ceremonies we throw in for other holidays wouldn’t be so painful. Of course it’s not these kinds of external displays alone that would embed a deeper respect for great achievement. But consciousness leads to action. Why not push for a more constructive commemoration than the one we’ve got?
As it is, only federal and public offices are closed on Presidents’ Day. This roughly translates to: We get no mail.
If we are ever to appreciate the importance of the presidency and the value and good it can administer, Presidents’ Day must become a truly “public” holiday.
Legislation 27 years ago placed Washington and Lincoln in a class of their own by making them among the few figures in our history that we commemorate in some fashion. Christopher Columbus and Martin Luther King Jr. compose the rest of the small list. The four represent a fairly small body of personalities Americans value as part of who we are now.
Some segments of the population insist on injecting issues of racial hatred and sexism into the holiday events. Yet the celebrations have cut across ethnic and social divisions, emphasizing the achievements of these individuals above and beyond the scope of their peers.
Just to put it all into perspective, look at the emphasis we place on celebrating the folk-lorish achievements of St. Patrick and St. Valentine.
Yet, I doubt that at any time last Monday did any of us have the chance to consider even the possibility of associating courage, honesty, integrity or wisdom with the presidency. We have become so immersed in images, polls, advertising and spin messaging that we may lose hope for another Washington or Lincoln to come our way.
Simply letting postal workers and public employees off the hook for a day doesn’t count as a holiday. Presidents’ Day, like other patriotic days — Labor Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July — should not be defined by the “public” or “private” sectors. Anyone who is part of the political underpinnings of our democracy — that is everyone — can appreciate excellence.
You and I can say what we want about the current state of the Office of the President of this country, exercising our rights to free speech, and still be patriotic. Even if you aren’t so inclined to show any kind of patriotism, we can all still appreciate the moments in American history where one or two great individuals have stepped into an appointed office and performed heroically. The list of our icons can include clergy, teachers, CEOs or politicians. Washington and Lincoln are among the few to have risen to the top.
Their spirits need to be kept alive in our collective memory. Until measures are taken, formal or informal, to make Presidents’ Day a true holiday, Washington and Lincoln will only join the ranks of the dead by a greater degree every year until they are ultimately forgotten. This is a price that no one can afford to pay — on sale or not.

Greg Borchard’s column appears every Thursday. He can be reached with comments via e-mail at [email protected]