Robert F. Jakubowicz: Washington's speech means little to GOP
PITTSFIELD — Presidents Day, as it has become to be known by the public, is not a holiday to honor all of the nation's presidents. I wrote about this in a past column and I believe that in this presidential election year, my point is worth repeating because the current president is not entitled to any such honor. His well-documented mendacity, pettiness, name-calling, retaliation against critics, eroding of national institutions such as the Department of Justice, and the federal judiciary, contempt for the rule of law, divisive policies, dog-whistle nods to racists and the like is a gross disservice to the honorable history of this country and other presidents who have made it so. Congress had it right in 1879 when it created Washington's birthday to honor one of those presidents and state legislatures went along by doing the same in their states.
In 1968, Congress passed a Uniform Monday Holiday Act that went into effect in 1971 to give federal employees a 3-day holiday weekend. This law changed the date for celebrating Washington's birthday from Feb. 22 to the third Monday in February and the state legislatures did the same. These laws did not change the name of the holiday.to Presidents' Day. The commercial ad agencies for retailers did that as a sales promotion for their client's products, especially motor vehicles, as some sort of patriotic thing to do to celebrate the day.
This treatment of the holiday is a disservice to presidents like Washington. He was a good model for the nation's presidents to follow. On Feb. 22, 1862, while the Civil War was raging, Congress met jointly to honor Washington by having his farewell address read before it. The point of the speech was unity. He said: "The unity of government which constitutes you as one people is the main pillar in the edifice of your real independence," and "tranquility at home," as well as "peace abroad." Washington wanted to make sure, as the nation's first president that the constitutional idea of unity by the former colonies would take hold and continue as a foundation for America.
The reading of this farewell speech became a tradition in the Senate on this holiday. It is ironic that the Republican majority of senators, who believe this is a great presidential speech to be honored on this day, are now reduced to a submissive group of presidential enablers causing more division than unity in this country by refusing to work with Democratic lawmakers in Washington.
George Washington was very concerned over the forming of such political factions, the forerunners of today's two major political parties. American historian and Harvard College Professor Jill Lepore noted that Washington was so upset by the squabbling going on between Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams that he served a second term in part and "reluctantly" in an attempt to stop such political-in-fighting. In his speech, Washington warned Americans about his fear of political party rancor and what this would mean in the future: "The domination by one political faction (party) over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism."
Washington's presidential legacy was to set this nation on a course of a unity of states under a constitutional government. According to historians, he visited all of the states as president in this effort. He did not try to turn the presidency into a monarchy or dictatorship. Historians point out that he could have served as president for life. But he left office after two terms which set a precedent for future presidents to serve likewise until the presidency of FDR.
He was concerned about political fighting by members of political parties and tried to set the nation on a course of unity. He set a high bar for unity in the governance of this nation that lasted until the Obama presidency.
During his presidency, the Republicans in Congress decided not support any of Obama's measures to prevent his reelection. They stooped so low as to disavow measures proposed by Obama that were initially proposed by GOP lawmakers. Their aim was to maintain complete political dominance of the government. One of the consequences of this congressional policy of complete dominance by the GOP was the election of the current president who is trying to assert complete dominance by the executive branch of government in the governance of this nation.
The GOP refusal to heed the political wisdom of Washington's call for unity in his farewell speech, as it is again read on this holiday in the senate, leaves only one solution to the problem, which is not to reelect President Donald Trump.
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz is a regular contributor to the Eagle.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.