Happy Washington’s Birthday!
    (To Hell with Presidents’Day)

My usual rant about celebrating what we want to celebrate.

Today is George Washington’s Birthday. He didn’t win many battles, but like Fabius he won the war. More importantly, he was the military leader of a successful war of national independence who did not make himself a military dictator or a king, an act of self-restraint for which the world will be forever in his debt.

I find it hard to work up any personal enthusiasm for him. He left no writings worth reading, and seems to have been an overwhelmingly dull figure. The mot juste seems to be “ponderous.”

Still, he was the Father of Our Country, and we did well to honor his birthday every year, ten days after Lincoln’s. Correspondingly, we did badly by crunching those two meaningful civic rituals into the meaningless Presidents’ Day, on which (presumably) we honor Buchanan, Harding, Coolidge, Nixon, and even George W. Bush.

I propose that we go back to actual national holidays commemorating actual persons and events: Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays rather than Presidents’ Day, the Armistice rather than Veterans’ Day, and Decoration Day (which we might as well extend to the graves of all the war dead, rather than just the Union dead of the Civil War) rather than Memorial Day. (I wonder what fraction of the population could explain what Memorial Day is supposed to memorialize?)

Moreover, the festivals ought to be held on the actual days, rather than on the nearest Monday. Some clever person several years ago figured out how to make this work without increasing or decreasing the number of days off and while preserving long weekends. The holiday itself is a day off from work. If it falls on a weekend, most workers lose out. But if it falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, then the Monday or Friday is also a day off. The total number of days off over the year doesn’t change. Having an occasional Wednesday holiday rather than a long weekend would be a small price to pay for actually honoring the persons and events we want to honor.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com