Saturday, February 23, 2008

Editorial Leadership

That's the name of one of our classes this term. And, since some of my many fans have asked for samples of my writing -- OK, OK, in my dreams they have -- here's a recent assignment:

Punctuate This

No wonder we can’t figure out complicated problems like health care and Social Security. We can’t even figure out how to punctuate Presidents Day.

Northerners of a certain age remember making stovepipe hats out of black construction paper near February 12, eating cherry pie on February 22 and having two days of no school.

Pity our children and grandchildren. The Uniform Holidays Bill of 1968 moved Washington’s Birthday, as it had been called since 1885, to the third Monday in February. One holiday instead of two.

Side note: George Washington might not have minded the switch. A change in calendar systems during his lifetime shifted his birthday from February 11 to February 22.

The 1968 bill also proposed renaming the holiday “Presidents’ Day” (apostrophe after the ‘s’) to honor both Washington and Lincoln. But that part of the bill got lost, and it wasn’t reinserted in 1971 when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act was passed.

President Nixon proclaimed it “Presidents’ Day” in 1971, in honor of all presidents, but a presidential proclamation is not the same as an executive order.

Technically, we celebrate one president’s birthday (apostrophe before the ‘s’) because the holiday is still listed in Federal statutes as Washington’s Birthday. State statutes are another matter.

In Alabama, for instance, on the third Monday in February we officially celebrate George Washington’s birthday and Thomas Jefferson’s birthday – although Jefferson was born in April. Alabama Department of Archives and History officials were stumped as to why we honor Jefferson, saying only that it “slipped into the code” in 1907.

“Presidents Day” (no apostrophe) has become the officially preferred designation, in an attempt to honor all presidents, even though “President’s Day” is the p.c. – punctuationally correct – version and even though the Chicago Manual of Style and many dictionaries prefer “Presidents’ Day.”

And even though, officially, it’s still just Washington’s Birthday.

With the latest round of presidential candidates riding into their respective Jerusalems so convention delegates can raise the palm branches and shout ‘Hosanna!’ we should acknowledge the peculiar combination of destiny and drive that has drawn fewer than 50 people – very different in parentage, in education, in religion, in character, in conviction of what was best for this country – to occupy its highest office.

We should also acknowledge that we among the nations of the earth can most truly say to our children that any of them might grow up to be President of the United States.
We should not take either of those peculiarities for granted, regardless of whether we agree with the current occupant of the office or not.

It’s time to make it official. Presidents Day.

No apostrophe. Honoring our past. Keeping faith with our future.

If we can do that, maybe there’s hope for resolving health care and Social Security.

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