Standard set by Honest Abe

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Last week, we celebrated President’s Day.

Every year, we take time to honor the memory, the history and the legends of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. At some point in our nation’s observance of this important holiday, someone decided it would also be a great day to have sales on sheets, pillow cases, cars and furniture.

Rather than taking time out of our busy lives to remember and admire the characteristics and traits that have made our long list of presidents the right-person-at-the-right-time to fill one of the most important jobs in the entire world, we now take the time to pay homage to white-sales and buy-one-get-one-free opportunities.

I’m not sure that’s such a great idea. However, it is definitely good that we take time to honor the office of the presidency.

We should be able to honor all of our elected officials. They were elected by us. They work for us. Despite the passage of time, Washington and Lincoln remain the examples of honesty and integrity that we admire and look for in our elected leaders. Our elected officials should all strive to meet the standard set by these two amazing presidents.

There is a long list of characteristics we want our president to exhibit. The following seven characteristic are included in almost every list of important presidential traits. First, the president should have a strong vision for our country’s future. The president also needs to have effective communications skills. The president needs to have the courage to make unpopular decisions. The president needs to have strong crisis management skills. The president needs to have strong character and integrity. The president needs to make wise decisions and wise appointments. Lastly, the president needs an ability to work effectively with Congress.

Every president also needs to accept that they will be under the microscope of public opinion and press scrutiny. It helps to have a thick skin, because it is OKy to criticize the president. In fact, it is our right and duty as Americans to criticize elected officials.

One of my favorite quotes about bad-mouthing a president came directly from the mouth of one of my favorite presidents. Today, as it was almost 100-years ago, people are often very critical of the president. President Theodore Roosevelt went on the record to discuss criticism about elected officials.

In the May 7, 1918 issue of The Kansas City Star, President Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.”

Maybe that’s one of the reasons that Teddy Roosevelt ended up on Mount Rushmore. He was not afraid of speaking the truth to anyone at any time. In fact, the four presidents who are carved onto Mount Rushmore were selected because of their role in preserving the Republic and expanding our country from the east coast to the Pacific. Those four represent 130 years of American history. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt all made their way onto the cliffs of Mount Rushmore. Teddy, who was not afraid of the truth, also made the wall. Way to go Teddy.

We all know the famous story of George Washington’s honesty, when he confessed, “I cannot tell a lie. I cut down the cherry tree.” That story is not true. It was fabricated as part of the George Washington history and legend written by Mason Locke Weems in “The Life of Washington.” The story was told so often, it became accepted as truth.

But, if you’re looking for honesty and truth, you need look no farther than Abraham Lincoln. He became known as Honest Abe well before being elected President. Mary Todd Lincoln once wrote to a friend, “Mr. Lincoln… is almost monomaniacal on the subject of honesty.”

President Lincoln was honest and insisted on honesty and integrity from all who served with him. He was truly a remarkable leader.

Every list of our best presidents starts with Abraham Lincoln. The lists of “Best Presidents” always, always go on to include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman and Theodore Roosevelt. Others have done a great job as president. Others… not so much. There is also a list of worst presidents.

Despite which list they make – top ten list or bottom ten list – all of them, everyone who has held the office of President of the United States deserve recognition for being willing to try; willing to sacrifice and willing to serve.

We will never agree completely on what our president should do, or how they should do it. Teddy Roosevelt was right. We need to criticize. We also need to encourage our leaders to do the right thing.

Also, praying for them to have wisdom and strength wouldn’t hurt.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist