Monday, February 15, 2010

It's Still Washington's Birthday

Today is the official celebration of George Washington's Birthday (the actual anniversary is 22 February). Despite the "Presidents' 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.

At a time when our sensibilities are daily drenched in the noxious effluent of popular culture; when our political leaders appear hopelessly common, venal or just plain stupid; when all seems to conspire, deliberately or not, to belittle and cheapen the whole concept of nationality and patriotism, it is pleasing to recall the legacy of this most uncommon, most upright of men, who placed all he had and was at the service of his country.

The fact that there is a United States at all is due largely to George Washington, and in particular to his military leadership that terrible fall and winter of 1776-77, when he kept the War for American Independence alive on sheer determination. Of course, while fighting the finest army on the planet with raw troops and militiamen who did not even have shoes, Washington had to keep one hand free to keep the politicians in Philadelphia off his back – these worthies all certain that they were qualified to do his job. Had good sense not finally prevailed with the politicos, the British, in spite of everything, no doubt would have prevailed.

Virtually every day of his adult life, George Washington put his country over himself, and for this reason, he could be trusted with power. No Napoleon or Julius Caesar as a general, George Washington did the infant United States a significant service following the war precisely by being no Napoleon or Julius Caesar as a politician. Washington quietly and competently performed his functions as President, and duly made way for his successor when his legal term expired. Washington's greatest bequest to America was his determination that the American national state 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.

Today, George Washington is somewhat politically incorrect, on several counts: (Dead White Male; Southerner; Slave owner; Rich Landowner). The history-vandals to whom political correctness is important have tried to diminish President Washington’s legacy in the hearts and imaginations of recent generations of his countrymen. Within living memory, almost every American classroom had its picture of George Washington; today, odds are, you will seek his portrait in vain.

But the joke is on the vandals. If you seek his legacy, look around. This country, and all in it, are the fruits of his labors. The pageant that is the American story did not began with Washington, but that great man gave it its tone and direction; and, the tale will endure long after the book-hiders, picture-stealers and speech-scolds and their false gods are dust.

Washington deserves his own holiday, and perhaps someday we will remember what we owe him, and give him his day back.

Happy Birthday Mr. President, and God bless your memory.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Out of Sorts. . .

Have been neglecting my blog shamefully. Truthfully, I have not felt much up to blogging since fall of 2008 -- first there was Ike, then the elections, and I have been more or less out of sorts in one way or another since.
In any case, here's hoping the blog is not as much abandoned, as in abeyance. Hope to get back to it soon.