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Presidents Day: A perfect example of Congress' meddling

Mount-Rushmore-001
 
Presidents Day is a perfect example of the dangers of a proactive Congress.

For one thing, there's the title. Is it President's Day, Presidents' Day or Presidents Day?

The sad saga of legislative overkill began in 1885, when Congress made George Washington's birthday a federal holiday. Actually POTUS 1 was born on Feb. 22, but in 1968, Congress mandated that all federal holidays should be celebrated on Mondays, so three years later Congress officially got around to moving Washington's birthday to the third Monday of the month.

At one point, Congress debated combining Washington's birthday with that of another revered president, Abraham Lincoln, who was born on Feb. 12. The bill failed, but the instinct was quickly adopted by marketers -- and most Americans. Sort of like a grass-roots tea party.

Of course, in some places -- such as Virginia -- today is still officially George Washington's birthday. The commonwealth likes its history without embellishment. And in Alabama, Presidents Day honors George Washington and -- drum roll -- Thomas Jefferson.

No matter which presidents are being honored, auto dealers, department stores and other retailers have no trouble identifying what day it is -- this is a day to advertise and sell everything from toys to mattresses. And what could be more fitting than good old American free enterprise as a way to honor the 44 presidents of the United States, or the first and third ones, or the first and 16th?

Confused? CNN has helpfully offered this quiz on the Presidents Day holiday

In the meantime, be grateful that Congress is on its weeklong "Presidents Day District Work Period." No Congress, no more laws.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Mt. Rushmore. Credit: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press

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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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