I hope you have recovered from your annual patriotic duty of purchasing massive amounts of mattresses at low, low Presidents’ Day prices. It always seemed odd that we are treated to a 60% discount on Serta, Sealy or Simmons of our choice on a quasi-holiday that isn’t even important enough to get most of us off from work, but then again, perhaps the real question is why mattress cost so much to being with. But I digress.
I won’t bore you with the long and tired history of Presidents’ Day, but suffice to say its journey from conception to reality was as circuitous and byzantine as any of our national holidays, though it started with the best of intentions: honoring our founding presidents. Washington and Lincoln, in particular, were the targets of honor, for the significant contributions to the country’s beginning.
Since we are now more than 40 presidents into our history, comparisons between whoever is our current president and those presidents of years gone by seem unavoidable. Predictably, our current leaders always pale in comparison with the wisdom shown by past leaders, with the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia firmly affixed to our view of the latter while the glairing light of today is directed to the former.
Students of history see themes and similarities not only in the men who hold the office, but in the times in which they govern. We mine the historic record for hints of what is to come or what should have been done. In a very direct way, our presidents are a very real reflection of the country at any given time. The policies they pursue are driven either by the wants or needs of the country at the time, and we hold them accountable as a result.
Every year, it seems as if the world is collapsing in around us, and we always point the finger at the President. Sadly, the Most Powerful Man in the World can do very little to control gas prices, stop international conflict, quell partisan infighting, or solve whatever crisis de jure pops into the most recent news cycle. The reason, of course, is that our government is not designed to be a monarchy – it is a democracy, which means whenever we have problems, we have many people to blame.
Ironically, we owe our democratic structure in no small part to our first presidents, who all had a hand in shaping the functioning of our government. So, in some real way, perhaps it is appropriate we remember Washington and Lincoln no so much for their more famous accomplishments while in office, but for their guiding hand in establishing the executive branch and the powers therein contained. Jefferson and Hamilton may have been the engineers, but Washington (not to mention Adams and Madison) were the builders who erected the country on the strong foundation.
A strong foundation, much like a box spring, is something most of really don’t understand, yet depend upon day in and day out. And today only, if you buy a mattress, you’ll get one free – so act fast.