Monday, February 15, 2010

I’d rather see a rancorous debate about politics and presidents than glee over a sale

I’d like to think that all across the nation, the people who comprise our society are using Monday to ponder the greatness of the United States, specifically the role that individuals who devote their lives to public service can play in bolstering this country.

For Monday is the day we honor the individuals who have managed to get themselves elected Commander of Chief (and no, I’m not including Geena Davis, although maybe I’ll spend part of the day watching a DVD I own of episodes from that now-defunct television drama). Many of us think this is the day for George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and whichever other former president fits our ideological belief pattern.

IT OUGHT TO be. But the sad reality is that it really isn’t.

I get the sense that more people are thinking of Presidents’ Day, if at all, as a chance to go shopping.

James A. Garfield's assassination caused engraver J.A.J. Wilcox to elevate his presidency to the levels of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in this 1884 illustration. Some people were quick to try to elevate Barack Obama to that same level shortly after his 2008 election.

I see the advertising inserts in my Sunday newspapers telling me I can save up to 60 percent if I enjoy “the magic of Macy’s,” while the Carson Pirie Scott ads make it seem like a dueling holiday contest between Sunday’s Valentine’s Day and Monday’s Presidents’ Day sale.

Coupons for 25 percent off! Wow. Somehow, I doubt this was what the “founding fathers” had in mind when they devoted their lives to breaking the British colonies on the North American continent away into their own country.

I ALSO AM skeptical that all the immigrants who made their travels to this land for a better life did so so that we could enjoy a “free comforter” if we show up at a Serta store and buy a queen- or king-sized mattress.

Then again, maybe they would have appreciated a comfortable night’s sleep after a long 12-hour (or more) day of work?

Excuse me for saying that I don’t get it. Why should this holiday be any kind of excuse for shopping? The Last place I would ever want to spend any time at if I had a day off is at a shopping mall.

There will be people with days off aside from schoolchildren.

BANKS WILL BE closed (so you’d better have your credit cards in working order, or else!), along with libraries and many government offices. That includes the post office, which means no mail on Monday (which may be the one good thing, since it means no new bills arriving – at least not until Tuesday).

I feel like we’re being told that our “patriotic” duty is to go shopping, and that we’re letting our country down by not rushing out to the Staples sale of $200 off a Compaq laptop (only $349.98!). Too bad I broke down and bought my laptop two months ago.

With all the advertising fliers, I feel like this is a second round of Christmas – except that the prevailing colors are red, white and blue instead of red and green.

Part of it is a “guy” thing. I would rather not be told it is my duty to shop. The idea of people being pushed into commercial activity just strikes me as being trivial. And the part of me that was usually the only one in my elementary school classes who actually found history lessons to be interesting is a bit bothered at the thought that this particular holiday has gained trivial elements.

WE HAVE LOTS of holidays meant to pay tribute to the concept of the United States as an ideal of Democracy on Planet Earth. The big one is Independence Day, with some attention paid to Memorial Day (the soldiers who were killed while trying to defend the concept of Democracy).

I’d like to think that Presidents’ Day could be the civilian alternative to Memorial Day (or Veterans Day) – when we honor those officials who won their influence through the ballot box (ultimately, that means the people) rather than on a battlefield.

And yes, I know that Washington got to be President Number One for this nation because of his activity on the battlefield in winning this nation independence.

But it ought to be the day that we celebrate the men (someday, most likely in our lifetimes, there will be women as well) who devoted the time to get elected, then gave four (or eight, unless you’re Franklin D. Roosevelt) years of their lives to try to make this country a better place.

I’M SURE THAT kind of mental activity has the potential to stir up some serious arguments.

Because most people perceive Presidents’ Day as the federal holiday upon which we honor the birthdays of Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and usually try to come up with a third former chief executive to make the date a trio.

John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan? FDR or distant cousin Teddy? How many people will already want to start talking up Barack Obama? Or will want to be sarcastic and try to include Gerald Ford (would comedian Chevy Chase have had as much of a career without those Ford “impersonations” that caught the mood of the nation in the mid-1970s but now seem ever so pointless?) into the mix.

Somehow, such debate strikes me as much more encouraging for our society than the thought that many of us are headed shopping – even if Kmart has Fruit of the Loom “rugged collection” boxer shorts on sale for $8.99.


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