Presidents Day is here again and I believe that it is time to reflect. Sometimes we forget why we recognize Presidents Day. No, it is not about special deals on cars. No, it is not about having a day off from school (but as a high school teacher, I’m not complaining). Today is about recognizing the service of our Presidents to the country.
Ninety-eight years ago, U.S. Senator Warren G. Harding outlined his vision for the nation from the shady front porch of his Marion, Ohio home. His simple front porch campaign, which would be the last of its kind in our nation’s history, reminded the nation of a calmer time in American History. Harding’s campaign reminded us of a time before a global war that took the lives of a generation of young Americans that challenged the very core of our nation. His campaign reminded us that we all serve our Common Country. He spoke from the porch of an average American home in an average American town.
Warren Harding was elected in a landslide; 60.3% of the popular vote and with 404 electoral votes. While President Harding served his country for just 29 months before his untimely death, he accomplished most of the goals that he set from his front porch in Marion. He created the Veterans Bureau. He created the Bureau of the Budget and had the first coordinated federal budget. His administration held the world’s first peace conference. He spoke in Birmingham, Alabama in 1921 pushing for equal voting rights and equal educational opportunities for African Americans. President Harding wanted the United States to lead by example and helped create a peaceful post-war society.
This day, however, is not just about Warren Harding. It is about all of our presidents. Every president must lead the country through challenges – from a poor economy, to war, to how to address immigration, to how to address issues of racism and sexism, and how to address foreign and domestic affairs. Even though each president in our nation’s history has done their best to handle these issues, there is never a moment where a president finds every issue or task completed. Leading the nation through the good times and the bad creates the ebb and flow that is the journey of our nation.
Nearly every decision made by the United States affects the world around us. It is the job of the president to lead by example and be a president of all the people, both those who voted for him and those who did not, and put the country over party. It is the job of the president to stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves, bind the country together, and bring us together as Americans instead of dividing us both in our country’s success and in our nation’s deepest grief. It is the job of the president to protect all of the freedoms granted in the Bill of Rights. Our Bill of Rights is what makes us uniquely American. We are a country that has freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of press. Our presidents must understand how critical these rights are – even if the president does not love every article written about them in the press or every criticism thrown at them by the Americans that might not agree with what they stand for. Take it from President Harding himself: “A President must seek the counsel of those in whom he has confidence, must make his own mind the meeting point for many minds, must hold himself free from prejudice and personal bias, and must keep always in mind that though he is a party leader, he must be more than that.”
Democracy is messy. The road that our nation has taken is not a straight line. Each of our presidents has strengths and flaws. Sometimes a president might wish that they could tell the nation what to do. Sometimes a president might think that they could get into a war of words with the public to try and prove their point. The beautiful part of our country and the presidency is that we live in a society of checks and balances and separation of powers. It brings the American people into the conversation. It creates an opportunity to bring the country together through compromise and to push the country forward. What makes our country so unique is that we have the peaceful transition of power, but no matter who sits in the Oval Office, the guiding principles, roles, and values of the presidency does not change.
President Harding understood the values and guiding principles of the presidency. He knew and understood that with such a great responsibility, he must keep the vision of the nation clear and ensure that the success of the nation was the first priority at hand. What President Harding understood most of all is that it is the people that lead the presidency and not the other way around. Harding said this to a crowd that had stopped to see him on his “Journey of Understanding” in 1923:
“I wish I had it in my power to bring you a little closer to those responsible for the affairs of government, because, after all, the government is yours, and if we could have a more intimate contact between the people and the government and a clear understanding of the needs of every situation, we would get along very much better in this country.”
We at the Harding Home thank Warren G. Harding for the leadership, service, and sacrifices he gave the nation during his time in office. He worked to the best of his ability to make a more perfect union. On this Presidents Day, take a moment and reflect on the journey that our nation has been on. We have never had a perfect leader. Our country has had its struggles. You might not have loved who has resided in the White House, and that’s okay. The point of Presidents Day is to reflect on the role that the presidency has played in our nation’s history, reflect on the winding road that our nation has taken, and remind us that our nation is lead by “We The People” and take action to make “Our Common Country” a better place for all.