Presidents’ Day is just around the corner. Should we celebrate?
People who love liberty and live in a free society don’t bow down and worship politicians. We understand that politicians wield power, to be sure, but we also know they still put their pants on one leg at a time. As President Reagan once put it, “America is a nation that has a government, not the other way around.”
The best of America’s presidents worked to keep the peace and our liberties. They didn’t view the Constitution as public window-dressing while they undermined it inside the store. The worst ones expanded power in Washington, burdening future generations with dubious programs, bureaucracy, taxes, debt, and foreign adventurism. The truly good ones are few and far between.
So whoever it was who decided we should have a Presidents’ Day in February, I can assure you it wasn’t me. I’d prefer to celebrate an Entrepreneurs’ Day. Or an Inventors’ Day. Or, of course, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. If I had my way, we’d have a Capital Day too.
America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, regarded government employment with a healthy wariness. In a 1799 letter, he warned, “Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.” Twelve years later in another letter, he said, “I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.”
Presidents’ Day, fortunately, is still welcomed by most Americans more as a day off work than a day to glorify presidents—even Washington and Lincoln, whose birthdays were “consolidated” into the holiday in the first place. But there’s still too much presidential glorifying that goes on for my tastes. In the spirit of Jeffersonian skepticism, my way of noting the holiday this year is to offer five of the many bad things some bad presidents said.