Is this really up for debate now? I assume it is since it showed up in Time under the byline of Jeanne Abrams. Since we already have a federal holiday honoring the presidents, how about one for the First Ladies? And no, I didn’t mistakenly copy this from The Onion.
While Americans celebrate Presidents’ Day on Monday, honoring the achievements of George Washington and his fellow leaders, it’s also worthwhile, as Abigail Adams once put it, to remember the (First) Ladies.
Regardless of their political affiliation, America’s First Ladies have shared a common bond and experience that stretches back to the dawn of the nation’s history, when Martha Washington had to create the quasi-official position from scratch, without a blueprint to follow to accommodate the demands of a new republican government. She and her next two successors, Abigail Adams and Dolley Madison, created a role that was uniquely American in both style and substance…
Over centuries, that complicated position, pioneered by Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, and Dolley Madison, often served as a lightning rod for influence as well as controversy, a phenomenon that endures even to the present day. A First Lady’s power is real—and so should be the recognition she receives.
Abrams has actually published a nice article that offers a pleasant walk down memory lane in terms of the country’s First Ladies. She focuses mostly on the very early wives of presidents, for the most part, describing the pressures of the position, the often unfair criticism they come under and the influence some of them have exerted on public policy.
With all of that said, this is a terrible idea for a number of reasons. Right up front, there is my usual, curmudgeonly attitude over the fact that there are already so many federal holidays you’re often hard pressed to know if the schools will be open, the trash will be picked up and the mail delivered on any given week. Really… before we start adding any more we should consider eliminating or combining a couple.
Beyond that, as much as many First Ladies are widely admired, they don’t really have an elected position in our government. Nobody votes for them. They’re not supposed to have any real power because they are unaccountable to the people. (The Constitution offers no method of forcing the president to get a divorce.) The fact that they have some influence on events is unavoidable, just as any other close relative or friend might put a bug in the president’s ear. But in the end, it’s the president who is responsible for his or her own actions, regardless of whose advice they took.
Even if this wasn’t already a dubious proposition, the name would need to be changed as well. How are you going to enshrine a “First Ladies Day” into law? Sooner or later there’s going to be a First Dude or First Partner, whether that’s because we elect a female president or a gay one. (And let’s not even get started on the whole transgender thing.) If this was going to be a holiday – and I still think it’s a bad idea – you’d need to call it First Spouse’s Day or something similar. And that really doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it?