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President’s Day Is a Weird Holiday. It Has Been Since the Beginning.
Plus: Finding happiness in doing work, not escaping it.
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CHARLIE SYKES: An Act of Literary Vandalism
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LINDSAY M. CHERVINSKY: President’s Day Is a Weird Holiday. It Has Been Since the Beginning.
On February 15, 1798, First Lady Abigail Adams wrote to her sister, outraged. “They are about to celebrate, not the Birth day of the first Majestrate of the union as such, but of General Washingtons Birth day!” Even worse, they had invited President John Adams to attend. Imagine the horror, she sputtered in rage, “The President of the united states to attend the celebration of the birth day in his publick Character, of a private Citizen! for in no other light can General Washington be now considerd.”
The Adamses were right. Celebrating one individual’s birthday was a weird activity for a new republic. Despite Abigail’s protests, celebrations for Washington’s birthday continue to this day, often under the umbrella of Presidents’ Day.
CATHY YOUNG: Elena Bonner at 100.
Last Wednesday, amid the bleak landscape of Moscow in 2023, a building on the edge of a public park near the city center became an island of a very different world, one that still treasures the liberal values of personal and political freedom, intellectual openness, and democratic government. The Sakharov Museum and Public Center hosted a bittersweet celebration of the centenary of a woman whose life embodied those values: Elena Bonner, the widow of the great nuclear physicist, dissident, and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov and a great freedom fighter in her own right. Bonner died in June 2011 at the age of 88; her legacy was never more timely than now.
Bonner was born Lusik Alikhanova in what is now Turkmenistan; both her mother Ruth Bonner and the stepfather who adopted her when she was a baby, Gevork Alikhanyan, were active and devout members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. (Alikhanyan held a number of high-level Party posts in Armenia and then in Moscow.) Her early years, chronicled in her beautiful 1991 memoir Mothers and Daughters, were privileged by Soviet standards though often made difficult by her stepfather’s absentee parenting and her mother’s emotionally distant tough love. When “Lusya” was 14, it all came crashing down with her parents’ arrest in the 1937 purges; Alikhanyan was executed, Ruth Bonner sent to a labor camp.
Biden went to an active war zone, Lindsey Graham shows his old McCain-sidekick self, DeSantis weighs in on Ukraine, the Michigan GOP disconnects from reality, and MTG takes the leap from sedition to secession. Will Saletan is back with Charlie Sykes for Charlie and Will Monday.
The Republican establishment — and many Republican voters in our focus groups — think Ron DeSantis is the answer to their prayers that they can win in 2024. But Donald Trump has a say in this matter, and he’s already offering up an early taste of the kind of attacks he’s planning on DeSantis. Heads-up: Those attacks are likely to go lower. What are DeSantis’ vulnerabilities as a candidate? Tara Palmeri of Puck News joins Sarah to listen to the focus groups and share some of her reporting from the Trump and DeSantis camps.
Bulwark+ members can listen to an ad-free version of these podcasts on the player of their choice. Learn more at Bulwark+ Podcast FAQ.
DAVID SHAYWITZ: The Balance.
Corporations, it seems, are suddenly attuned to work/life balance.
Whether concerned about pandemic-associated burnout or quiet quitting, companies are now discouraging weekend emails, holding wellness workshops, and urging managers to set good examples by conspicuously utilizing their vacation days rather than pushing through them. “Personal time off” out-of-office messages have replaced “I can be reached at” notifications as the new flex.
The message to employees is unmistakable: happiness is something you find when you step away from work.
Happy President’s Day! Are you enjoying a new mattress? Ever wonder why mattresses are associated with President’s Day? It was a slow holiday here at The Bulwark, but we’ll be back at full steam tomorrow. I spent the day at various malls and playgrounds and stores. I did get to take a peek at the progress the Army Corps of Engineers is making dismantling the SM-1 reactor at Fort Belvoir, which I wrote about for Washingtonian early in the pandemic.
ICYMI: Tim Miller had a nice note to readers that I think really gets The Bulwark ethos. (And yes, there’s an appeal if you’re not a B+ member.)
President Biden was in Kyiv today… A surprise visit, inspiring to Ukrainians, replete with memes, sad Trumpy and Russian propagandists, and an obligatory train ride back to Poland. Oh, and we finally heard from 2024 hopeful Ron DeSantis on the Russian invasion!
The XFL is back! And my D.C. Defenders are undefeated. After an uninspiring first half, the confiscation of the famed “Beer Snake” turned the tide, as fans got into it (and threw lemons in protest) to help the good guys beat the Seattle Sea Dragons.
I think my second-favorite part of the broadcast was where they were talking about people who bet on the game in a league that just restarted with teams that have never played a game. Who would bet on that? The best part was the lemons.
Trouble in Mamaroneck, NY… As James O’Keefe is ousted from Project Veritas, after which, he gave a teary, bizarre speech to staff, ending with a quotation from Henry V. This is your periodic reminder that the GOP's craziest elements are usually failed theatre geeks.
“The Last of Us…” But actually Fox News clips.
Speaking of the Dominion suit… It was reassuring to our friend Matt Lewis to know that, despite being afraid of their audience and saying things other than what they believed, that they secretly agree with him about pretty much everything.
Inside the collapse… of the Trump-DeSantis ‘alliance of convenience.’ Pat Dennis observes: “Ron desantis is a replacement level conservative member of the house who was able to leapfrog several levels in political ambition by disingenuously sucking up to Trump, beginning way back in 2012.” So, from his POV, it has been a pretty successful alliance. Though, “replacement level” might even be a bit charitable. DeSantis was a nobody.
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