Monday, February 18, 2008

Washington's Birthday

Today is the official celebration of George Washington's Birthday (the actual anniversary is 22 February). Despite the "President's Day" moniker popularly used, which also appears in the statute books of my own State, I prefer the older name for the holiday, which is also the name recognized in the Federal statute book (5 U.S.C. § 6103(a)). Our first President, still among the greatest, deserves so much more recognition than he now gets.
Leaving aside his military service, Washington's greatest bequest to us was his determination that our republic not be a banana republic: that it become a peaceful instrument of the law, governed by institutions administered by sober-minded men; and not just another creature to be ruled by a great leader, born out of partisan excitement and mob rule. Of course, we are all too aware that partisan excitement exists, abetted and inflamed by technologies that Washington and the founders could not forsee. So far, however, the tumult and the shouting of partisans and the factious have been successfully channeled and moderated by the laws and institutions the founders made and that Washington protected and helped to grow.
Virtually every day of his adult life, George Washington put his country over himself, and for this reason, he could be trusted with power. Probably the most important thing Washington ever did was to leave the Presidency at the expiration of his term. We owe Washington the universal expectation that our Presidents will regularly leave office; peacefully handing over the office to their successor of whatever party, in a regular manner. Few other states can boast such a record.
Washington deserves his own holiday, and perhaps someday we will remember what we owe him, and give him his day back.

No comments: