Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Restore the Holiday of George Washington’s Birthday and Cherish Representative Government

           The 285th Anniversary of George Washington’s birthday is the occasion for my annual post either on this day or on the federal and state holiday commonly known as “Presidents’ Day” in which I recall Washington’s greatness and call for the restoration of “Washington’s Birthday” as the name of the holiday to honor him and reflect on his legacy of American independence, liberty and representative government under the Constitution of the United States. 

With the focus of the “Presidents’ Day” holiday on the presidency and all of the Presidents, the second Branch of government is elevated above the other two Branches, for which there are no holidays.  Perhaps Constitution Day should be celebrated more, unless Washington’s Birthday is restored.  This emphasis on all the Presidents, in addition to minimizing the greatness of Washington by elevating others as equally accomplished, recalls their mistakes, which overly politicizes the holiday and increases controversy.  Although it is generally worthwhile to debate the merits of past Presidents, a holiday should be a unifying occasion, not a divisive one.  Furthermore, Washington is an example of virtue and patriotism, in contrast particularly to some of his more recent presidential successors, who are not worthy of being equally honored with a “Presidents’ Day” holiday.  Restoring Washington’s Birthday would return the focus of the holiday not only to his presidency, but to his entire life, especially his contribution to the American Revolution and as a Founding Father, as well as to the Constitutional Convention, which he chaired.    

I have observed the last two years how Washington’s leadership offers a timely example.  I was referring to the contrasting weak leadership of his successor as president at the time.  I was specifically referring not to President Barack Obama’s penchant for exceeding executive authority in domestic matters when he was unable to gain support for his proposals from the Legislative Branch, but to his relatively weak defense and foreign policy, despite his continuation of the War on Terrorism and other reasonable policies. 

As an overreaction to this perception of weakness, a plurality of Americans have admired, by contrast, certain foreign tyrants or have even sought such an excessive kind of leadership, that of the authoritarian strongman, for the U.S.  Washington, who deferred to Continental Congress as commanding general of the Continental Army, did not seize power after the war, exercised no authoritarian powers as the first U.S. President and retired after two terms, offers a counter-example of strong leadership without autocratic excess.  Indeed, even though Washington could have obtained dictatorial powers, he rejected authoritarianism, exemplified the rule of law over the rule of man and championed representative government as a safeguard of liberty against tyranny, as he respected the will of the people, as expressed through their chosen representatives.   He nonetheless accomplished extraordinary goals as the First President, but his greatness was in his example, not only of faithfulness to duty to the point of personal sacrifice, but of humility.

May Americans recall Washington especially today and find increased inspiration to cherish liberty, the Constitution of the United States and representative government.  May God bless America.  

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