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President’s Day honors democratic institution

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By Rick Howell

We celebrated President’s Day on Monday, perhaps our most unappreciated holiday the entire year.
    It was originally started as a celebration of George Washington’s birthday on Feb. 22. Now it stands as an opportunity to contemplate the genius of the presidency itself.
    Our founders had created something new in the world, a system of democratic succession where the top officer of the central government could not serve for life, as kings did elsewhere.
    Also, with the separation of powers among three branches of government – the judicial, the legislative and the executive – no one sphere of government was designed to be more powerful than another.
    But even as George Washington was finishing his second term, there were those who wanted him to ignore the election of the second president, John Adams, and hold power for life.
    A large contingent of Washington’s supporters, many of them soldiers who had served with him, went to see him.
    The aging president met them outside his estate, where one of them handed him a document, basically a letter signed by them all, imploring him to ignore the succession and remain in office, supposedly for the good of the nation.
    Washington, it is said, made a point of slowly reaching into his pocket for his glasses, and said to the men, “I have grown old and nearly blind in the service of my country.”
    He read the document, and then explained that he and those who had fought with him did so to establish just such a system where one man would democratically succeed another, without anyone setting himself up as a king or a dictator.
    He sent the men home, and the matter did not surface again. Imagine how different our history might have been had Washington not been loyal to the ideals of the revolution.
    Since then, 43 others have served in the presidency. People, even historians, love to rate which ones were “best” or “worst,” which are admittedly, in most cases, very subjective classifications.
    If, for example, you argue about the greatest president of the 20th century, conservatives will pick Reagan and liberals will say it was FDR.
    But Roosevelt led us through the calamity of the Great Depression, a disaster the likes of which Reagan never had to face. (Even The Gipper himself said FDR was the greatest president of his lifetime.)
    The greatest of all time? That should be a no-brainer for everyone, as it is for most historians: Abraham Lincoln. He saved the union when it was at its greatest peril, defeating the rebellious who thought that freedom only belonged to one race.
    As for Barack Obama, fairness suggests no judgment be rendered until his current term has ended.
    But the other columnist here has already done so. John Barnhart refers to Obama as “the worst president ever.” His only apparent reason for that is the health care law, which so drives conservatives to great heights of ideological hysteria.
    However Obama is ultimately judged, historians will note that he served at a time of intense ideological friction, and was met with nothing but the most bitter opposition from the other party.
    The main candidate for the “worst ever” title is the swaggering little Texan who lost the vote in 2000 and had to be installed by the Supreme Court.
    He then proceeded to start one unnecessary war, and another that should have stopped at Tora Bora. Once the public turned against him, he spent the last three years of his presidency with an approval rating that couldn’t reach 30 percent.
    Again, most historians, too, see it that way. So, argue we will, but it is to America’s credit that we have this institution, one that safeguards our very democracy

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Rick Howell, a Bedford native, can be reached by e-mail at RickDem117@gmail.com.