Monday, February 16, 2004

Presidents' Day, the Indians and a Bridge

Presidents’ Day, the Indians and a Bridge
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
February 16, 2004

The following is not politically correct. There it is – right up front. It may offend some blacks, some liberals, some American Indians and some Republicans as well.

Those of you brave enough to be reading this essay no doubt received it via e-mail either from me directly or from one of your friends smart enough to pass along my wisdom – or by one of your enemies smart enough to want you to think, because no publication has the guts to print such publicly presented thoughts.

The Monday, February 16 Washington Post – fittingly Presidents’ Day – printed an article in the Metro section (“Bridge’s Namesake Unpopular on Md. Side”) that a number of blacks in Prince George’s County, MD object to seeing the medallion of Woodrow Wilson on their side of the new bridge. The current Woodrow Wilson Bridge, spanning from Alexandria, VA to Prince George’s County across the Potomac River, has stood for 43 years bearing the name of the 28th president of the United States.

Wilson, a Democrat, and native of Staunton, VA led a distinguished career as president of Princeton University and Governor of New Jersey prior to his 1912 victory and ascendancy to the White House for two terms. Some say the bridge honors Wilson’s call for internationalism in the face of World War I and his want of the failed League of Nations – a failure due to Wilson’s own stubbornness. Some say the bridge wrongly honors an American who supported segregation – segregation at a time when Plessy v. Ferguson (1898) made “separate but equal” the law of the land.

We cannot, nor should not, sanitize history. American history, as is the case with the history of any nation, has its beautiful stories, as well as its warts.

It is bad enough the United States now has “Presidents’ Day” as a federal holiday when this nation proudly honored two of its greatest leaders – George Washington and Abraham Lincoln with separate federal holidays. Instead, the only day on the calendar named for an American is in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an accomplished civil rights leader. The federal government, in an act of hypocrisy, held hostage the several states by threatening a loss of federal funding for not approving the King Holiday.

So-called black leaders like Jesse Jackson went to states like Arizona, New Hampshire and South Carolina threatening economic boycotts until those legislatures succumbed to the idea of the Dr. King holiday. The National Football League told Arizona it would not hold a Super Bowl there until it too caved in.

Should the King Holiday not exist because of his warts – he was a plagiarist and an adulterer? Probably not – after all he preached non-violence during the turbulent period of violence during the Civil Rights Movement.

However, to deny the Washington and Lincoln holidays in its place is sacrilegious. Should we change the name of George Washington University because he owned slaves? I think all American presidents should have their birthdays on the calendar – the good and the not so good – from Grant, Harding and Carter to Madison, Truman and Reagan. (Recognized, but not with federal holidays.)

But the federal government, as noted earlier, is hypocritical and this hypocrisy was no more demonstrated than in the previous day’s Washington Post – Sunday, February 15 – with “Tribes Seeking Status Weigh Jamestown Role” illustrating the federal government’s continued denial of Virginia’s eight Indian tribes their proper recognition. Tribal status should be appropriately confirmed upon Virginia’s eight tribes with the same federal recognition as has been granted to 562 other tribes in the United States.

The federal government is hypocritical because while it thrusts political correctness upon us regarding one minority group and one aspect of this nation’s history, it denies another minority – a much smaller, seemingly less economically threatening minority its rightful place.

Two of Virginia’s Congressmen, Robert Goodlatte (R-6th) and Frank Wolf (R-10th), are objecting the granting of such federal recognition. They are doing so on the grounds of their objection to having casino gambling as an aspect of tribal life. I like both Goodlatte and Wolf – politically and personally. Goodlatte will be a solid US Senator when John Warner retires and I was proud to call Wolf my congressman when I lived in his district.

However, if people want to gamble, so be it. And while the tribes have said they are not entertaining casino gambling as part of their futures – so what if they are. There are casinos in Nevada, New Jersey, on riverboats on the Mississippi River and on many Indian reservations. There is horseracing in many states, slots in Delaware and lotteries nationwide.

Bottom line – the federal government is hypocritical, I want the Indian tribes to be appropriately recognized, I want Washington and Lincoln to have their days back and Wilson’s medallion on both sides of his bridge.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.

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