Thursday, February 17, 2011

Our Greatest President

There are two types of holidays:

The first is where you get the day off so you can sleep in, wear your bathrobe all day, and discover how vacuously depressing daytime television is.
The second holiday you don't realize is in effect until the door to the bank won't open.

But at some point in the dim past these holidays had a point beyond making you feel like a jerk for watching 20 year old game shows, or looking like a jerk for standing helpless in the middle of the empty parking lot of the County Courthouse. There is a reason and a story behind every holiday so I usually try to pay attention. All any holiday is, really, is a memo that arrives annually on the desk of our country and asks us to consider something for a day, so I'll play. 

I think about trees on Arbor day. I try to find some spirit on Christmas. During Black history month I put more Jazz and Blues into the CD rotation. I visualize planetwide co-existence on World Peace Day (Dec. 31st), usually by picturing the leaders of all 200+ countries playing in a secret miniature golf tournament: no media, no interpreters, no aides, no resolutions; just helping each other through the windmill. When I am informed that it is National Radish Week I try one if I can, and consider it as it goes down.

Presidents Day never goes down easy though. I'm bothered because I feel that I should know more about them. When it was separate days off for Washington and Lincoln it was pretty easy: George fought for secession and Abe fought against it. But when Congress squished 'em together into the all-encompassing Presidents day, I realized that I was inadequately prepared for the celebration. Now it is a free Monday that seems to require some book learnin'.

I mean, all these guys were pretty important, right? Popularly elected sole member of one third of our government’s branches, and so on. But what have they done, really? Individually or collectively? Beats me. I can name the first three, Abie Baby, and the last half dozen or so. And if you were grading on a curve I think I would pass.

Other than those few names all I dredge up is trivia and two old jokes:
1.            George Washington did so many things first that he should have been called "precedent Washington", and
2.            Having the Gettysburg Address written on the back of an envelope is odd because most envelopes have the address on the front.

The trivia is scarcely more informative: 
  Ulysses S. Grant got several speeding tickets while in office.
  William Howard Taft got stuck in the bathtub a lot.
  Calvin Coolidge enjoyed hiding in the Capitol dome and watching the secret service frantically search for him.
  Lyndon Johnson had some of the taps in the White House dispense ice cold Fresca.
  Dolly Madison saved a big painting of George Washington from the burning White House.

(And we were all told that we WON the war of 1812. Wrong. Sorry. We may have come out ahead on points in the end, but when the invading army burns down your executive mansion - you LOSE.)

And that's about it. I don't feel stupid about it, I just think that our 40-odd Commanders-in-Chief have been a dull, stoic, managerial lot. That is, Presidential.

And again, what have all these white-boys-in-ties done? Beyond ending slavery and extending voting rights and installing Medicare have we improved much on the basic blueprints quilled by the public relations radicals who started this thing? As a country was everything we need to know learned in kindergarten?

Still this is about Presidents Day and I have a suggestion and an opinion. The suggestion is that after the Monday holiday do "Congress Day" on Tuesday and "Supreme Court Day" On Wednesday. That way I will be reminded to think of the other branches as well. The High Court for one could certainly use a mini-golf tournament. They need to get out more.
His welcome was not overstayed.

My opinion is on the best President. Yes, there is one whom I truly admire. One who never got anybody killed, bungled a bill, or got stuck in the bathtub. I drink a toast to him every Presidents Day: William Henry Harrison. My Hero. What's that? No bells ringing? He was #9, an 1840's model - not a real zippy period. He went to his inauguration without an overcoat, speechified for three hours, caught a cold, and died three weeks later. He introduced no legislation, never exercised a veto, didn't nominate a soul to the High Court. A perfect record.

Is it a coincidence that my favorite President was neither a Democrat nor a Republican? Yes it is, but given the increasingly tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumness of the two party system it is fitting nonetheless. If the Whigs ever make a comeback - they've got my vote.

Angus McMahan

(Pics from Wikimedia Commons)

1 comment:

  1. I think Presidents' Day is to make us feel like we accomplished something by voting for him (or someday, her). Congress does their own thing, and very few even know what the speaker of the house does, let alone who it is. The people get even worse choice with the courts, as in, we get none. I think my fave president though is Gerald Ford. Any man who can fall as many times as he did, and still maintain some form of dignity...