20 February 2012

On Presidents Day

Today we in America have a holiday that is not so much marked by a celebration of the leaders of this country; rather, it has become a time to sell cars and clothing. Both Washington and Lincoln were born on or around this date, depending on when it falls (Feb 22 and 14, respectively), noted as the greatest presidents we have ever had in our history. While there are many other presidents to celebrate on this day (the Roosevelts, for example), there are others to hang one's head about, or to give the American pause. (Nixon comes to mind.)

More intriguing, perhaps, to travel to the realm of speculation, is the list of "should have been" presidents. It might be of interest to consider, for example, how the entire office of President might have been different had Benjamin Franklin been our first instead of Washington. Or if Alexander Hamilton might have been allowed to serve. (The clause in the Constitution forbidding foreign-born presidents is certainly a good concept, but there are those that argue the clause was championed by Hamilton's opponents.) What if women's suffrage had not taken so long to be accepted, let alone adopted? Certainly Eleanor Roosevelt seemed as adept at the job as her husband, and surely there might have been others before or since more capable than, say, Ulysses Grant, whose administration was fraught with corruption. What if slavery had not gripped this country so tightly? How might the presidency of Frederick Douglass changed the country?

We are finally reaching that time of universal equality in America, and former barriers to the presidency are being broken down with relative ease. Unfortunately, our media-fueled culture is reducing our leaders into talking heads, with wisdom and courage being replaced with sound bites and "chutzpa." So, too, is our culture changing from a nation of listeners and thinkers to a nation of shouters and gamblers. No one speaks softly and carries a big stick anymore; it's all loud talkers flailing tiny, annoying sticks.

So, this Presidents Day, amid the shopping, say a little prayer for the future. Lord knows America needs it.