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thedrifter
02-16-05, 06:35 AM
Remember President's Day

February 15, 2005



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by Jonathan David Morris
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The best American presidents are the ones whose names you can never rememberólike Rutherford Hayes, Millard Fillmore, and that other guy.

Any president whose name ďrings a bellĒ was probably a pretty good president.

Now, ordinarily, these arenít the people youíd associate with a serious discussion on Americaís all-time best. No, of course not. Because any serious discussion on Americaís all-time best will inevitably turn to the two guys we lionize on Presidentís DayóGeorge Washington and Abraham Lincolnóas well as a couple of other presidents who Americans have actually heard of. Someone will always toss in FDR, for instance. His Cousin Teddy, too. And the occasional rabble-rouser will, of course, suggest Jefferson just for good measure. Why not? These are the presidents whose names we remember. They mustíve been good.

But meanwhile, some guys are perpetually out of contention. No one will ever tell you Franklin Pierce was the best American president. And, likewise, nobody gives the nod to John Taylor and Zachary Tyler. Or was it John Tyler and Zachary Taylor? Whatever. Same difference. You get the drift.

The way I figure, the reason these names never come to mind is because the actual humans theyíre attached to didnít do anything worth remembering. Take Chester Arthur. What did he do? Iím sure he did something. Iím sure I even knew what that something was at one point in my life. But I forget now. And how about James Garfield? When was he president? Did I fall asleep? I mustíve missed it. Wake me when he comes back around.

Now, I suppose I could always google these presidents to learn more about them. And if I were comfortable with using ďgoogleĒ as a verb, I would probably do that. But Iím not. So I wonít. Besides, I donít want to learn more about these presidents anyway. What am I going to do with that information? Write it down on a Post-It Note and stick it to my corkboard? Call my friends and family to share the good word? Teachers tried drilling this stuff into my head every single day for nearly 20 years. If I didnít remember it the first time (or second time, or third time), it probably wasnít worth remembering.

Or maybe it was. I donít know. I canít remember.

I guess what Iím trying to say here is, the fact that I canít recall what James Polk accomplished is, itself, his greatest accomplishment. Thatís why I donít want to know more about him. I donít want to ruin his reputation. Same goes for Grover Cleveland. Hereís a guy who waltzed in and out of D.C. without doing a single thing I can remember off the top of my head. In fact, the only thing I know is that he did nothing twiceóin two, non-consecutive terms. If you ask me, that makes him twice as good. Why sully his name by learning more?

Take a look at a list of presidents. You wouldnít invite most of these guys into your home. Franklin Roosevelt? Marxist. Jack Kennedy? Womanizer. Richard Nixon? Crook. The list goes on. Ulysses Grant ran up bar tabs. Ronald Reagan had Iran-Contra. Gerald Ford kept falling down. Then thereís LBJ, who cursed like a kid on the playground. And letís not forget the tax-hiking ventriloquist, George Bush. ďRead my lips,Ē he said. Bill Clinton, from what I understand, said the same thing. Shall I go on?

Even our most cherished presidents werenít perfect. We all know Washington did good things in office. He set the standard for stepping down after two terms. But the same guy who led troops against the British was also the only sitting president to lead troops against Americans. Can you imagine if George W. Bush jumped on a horse and rode into western Pennsylvania to collect whiskey taxes? We wouldnít be happy about that. At least I know I wouldnít. I like whiskey. And I hate taxes. Yet Washington did this in 1794, and today we hold furniture sales on his birthday. Whatís up with that?

The point is, presidents seem to leave the White House like rock stars leave hotel roomsówith bed sheets strewn from the ceiling fan, and broken stuff all over the floor. The presidents whose names we can never remember hold a distinct advantage: We have no clue what they didógood, bad, or whatever. Iíve got to believe this means they broke less stuff. And in my opinion, that should be the presidentís only job description: ďHere. Hold onto our country for a few years. And donít break it. Thanks.Ē

So, for my money, the best American president was William Henry Harrison, who stayed in office for about an afternoonóthen rode gently into that good night. Finally, here was a leader who cared. Thatís who Iíll celebrate this Presidentís Day.

Well, provided I donít forget.

Jonathan David Morris

Ellie