Happy President’s Day

by Ryan on February 15, 2010

in Anything Else,Culture,Law,Politics,Pop Culture

Every year we take a day to pay homage to our 44 Presidents on the third Monday in February.  We used to have both Lincoln and Washington’s birthday off, but with the addition of the observance of Martin Luther King’s birthday as a federal holiday in 1983 we meshed the two birthday’s together into President’s Day.

So, in a sense, the origins of the February federal holidays were not to pay our respects to all Presidents, but only two of the great ones!  I’m not going to wax nostalgic about the tenure of bad Presidents like Andrew Johnson, John Tyler, James Buchanan, or Jimmy Carter (funny, all of them were Democrats at one point).  Who would?

Plus, the modern presidency is not happily consistent with our early republican roots:  since FDR the President acts more like a mildly benevolent elected monarch* wielding powers not always enumerated by the Constitution.  Our Founders would freak out if they saw the modern power of the White House, the weakness of Congress, and the perception that any co-equal branch is “the final say” on Constitutional matters in the way we have ceded such authority to the Supreme Court.

I like having the day off, but thinking about the government (especially nowadays) and the presidency (especially this one) only demonstrates how far we’ve come from a functional system originally bound to constrain itself.

*I’ve selected a picture I took in London of a statue of President Washington, standing regally with his left arm on a fasces.  I think there’s some thoughtful symbolism to those aspects of the statue for today’s American.

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