Is Presidents' Day too commercialized?
It used to be that this was a special holiday -- a day for celebrating our special bond with our presidents, preferably by surprising them with chocolate, a birth certificate or something thoughtful like an impeachment. "Chocolates come and go," we would explain, "but an impeachment is something you always have."
Now, it's just a day when the presidents are dragooned into selling us mattresses, furniture and cars. I don't understand who initially made the connection between Abe Lincoln and Serta -- "Does the Emancipation Proclamation help you sleep better at night? So will the Serta mattress!" -- but I think it needs to be severed. Somehow, he's proceeded from the Lincoln bedroom to everyone's bedroom. "Abraham Lincoln said that a house divided against itself could not stand," I observe, dragging home a credenza. "And nothing divides a house more than a clashing living-room set!" (Really, what would George Washington say this weekend? "I cannot tell a lie. So I will not describe the condition of this car in great detail!")
So instead of stampeding to the mall to make impulse buys on vague association, let's take this day to remember the presidents. What a strange lot they've been. If they all showed up at a party, it would be impossible to guess the theme: Beards? Non-beards? People who enjoy shaking hands? People who can't stand it?
This weekend focuses on Lincoln and Washington, two who are included by default in every presidential greatest-hits collection. Washington and Lincoln were both so famously honest that they would run screaming from the room if anyone asked if they looked fat in this dress. When Washington played Two Truths and a Lie, he just told three truths. (This always bugged Jefferson, who would tell three lies to compensate.) Lincoln was noteworthy for his sense of humor -- "I can make more generals, but horses cost money" -- Washington less so, although his speech about the evils of political parties was pretty hilarious in retrospect.
But while not all of our presidents are so memorable -- the only thing that anyone knows about Rutherford B. Hayes and Millard Fillmore is that nobody knows anything about Rutherford B. Hayes or Millard Fillmore -- they all deserve credit. Adlai Stevenson (always a bridesmaid, never a president) quipped, "In America any boy may become president and I suppose it's just one of the risks he takes."
I'm glad they took the risk. So I wish they'd stop trying to sell me used cars. That's not what today is about.
| February 20, 2011; 6:51 PM ET
Categories: Petri, That's awkward | Tags: America, Presidents Day, holidays
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