Monday is Presidents Day, the day when most Americans celebrate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and honor the office of the presidency of the United States.

In Alabama, Monday also commemorates the birthday of Thomas Jefferson, even though he was born in April.

President Washington was the Father of our Country. President Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence. President Lincoln was the Great Emancipator and Preserver of the Union. History teaches young Americans about the greatness of these early presidents.

As great as we’ve made these men out to be, however, we know they each had their human foibles. Washington biographers have called him habitually moody and irritable and the owner of a colossal temper. Jefferson was the owner of slaves and is said to have fathered several children with one of his female slaves. Lincoln reputedly fought clinical depression all his life.

Of course they were human, but we continue to associate honor and dignity with them and with the office they held.

As we celebrate Presidents Day in 2012, this being a presidential election year, it’s impossible to ascribe honor or dignity to the process being used to select President Barack Obama’s Republican opponent or to the candidates in the fray. (There is no Democratic primary in 2012. We’ll have to wait and see if we can expect better in the next contested Democratic primary, in 2016.)

The GOP shenanigans denigrate the office that is being sought and that we commemorate on Presidents Day.

The zeal and intensity of the anti-government, conservative right wing of the Republican Party to find someone to defeat Obama has led candidates to enter the race unprepared and untested.

Rick Perry’s painful “oops” moment when he couldn’t remember one of the three federal agencies he would like to zero out is an obvious example, but none of the other momentary stars of the right has retained his or her luster either.

Herman Cain’s campaign came to a crashing halt when he couldn’t deal with all the personal accusations of sexual harassment and dalliances, nothing other candidates haven’t been forced to address and overcome. Michelle Bachmann attacked Rick Perry for mandating human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccines to female students in Texas and wildly and falsely claimed that the shots caused mental retardation, accelerating her implosion.

Sarah Palin, the hasty choice of running mate to shore up John McCain’s conservative credentials and whose foreign policy résumé was based on the view of Russia from her front porch, wrote the book about premature national candidacies. Desperate conservatives continue to look to Palin to enter the race.

The deep ideological divisions in the Republican Party have left it searching for an identity and have diminished the stature of its standard-bearer, whoever that turns out to be.

The days of our early presidents, when news traveled slowly, are gone. Gone also are my growing-up days, when many of us received our news from Walter Cronkite, somebody trusted more than any president.

Political information comes at us constantly, much of it from biased sources.

Human flaws become so much more magnified when they are pounced on by partisan news sources. Editorial comment no longer is reserved for the editorial pages of a newspaper (like this one). Instead, it gets blogged, tweeted and takes center stage on cable network news and talk shows.

Super-PACS with their endless source of unlimited corporate and union funds ensure that any candidate’s humanness takes on monstrous and evil qualities.

A lasting memory from the 1994 gubernatorial campaign was candidate Angus King’s oft-repeated references to Thomas Jefferson’s tombstone. It says, “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.”

No reference to the fact that he was president of the United States, only to his proudest accomplishments.

One hundred years from now on Presidents Day, will any contemporary or future president share the esteem that Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln are held in? Perhaps not, and America won’t be better for it.

Kay Rand is former chief of staff for Maine independent Gov. Angus King.


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