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Next week, the third Monday in February, a consolidated holiday, Presidents’ Day, will be observed. What began as a celebration of the commander of the continental army during the American Revolution and first U.S. President, George Washington’s birthday (February 22), expanded to include recognition of the 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th. Their legacies have withstood the test of time, even when filtered by the scrutiny of historians. Washington is known as the “Father” of our country, while Lincoln is best remembered for the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 and a brief speech at the 1863 dedication of a national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Observance of Presidents’ Day has now broadened to include all U.S. Presidents. The long lens of time often reveals a different perspective then that of their contemporary partisans. Many popular presidents have either faded into honorable threads of the national tapestry or, in hindsight, crouched in the shadows as flawed and irregular blemishes. Of the 46 presidents (Grover Cleveland counts twice since he was elected in non-consecutive cycles), enduring legacies are difficult to maintain.

Living generations tend to concentrate on current events with little regard for historical context. Although we benefit from the accomplishments of former administrations at all levels of government prior to our lifetimes, the names of those responsible are often left to historians, street signs, buildings and bridges. Current enthusiasm for a particular leader or their own sense of self-importance may prevail for a decade or two, but wither into obscurity or, worse, infamy over time. What remains are the values and practical results left to future generations. Some presidents are well known and venerated for their life work prior to holding office but less so while in office. John Adams (#2) and Thomas Jefferson (#3) signed the Declaration of Independence, but what were their accomplishments as president?

Try matching the following presidents to their legacies:

James Monroe (5)                                                     Interstate Highway System

James K. Polk (11)                                                    Watergate

Theodore Roosevelt (26)                                          Teapot Dome scandal

Warren G. Harding (29)                                             New Deal

Franklin D. Roosevelt (32)                                        National Parks

Richard M. Nixon (37)                                                Berlin Wall

Ronald Regan (40)                                                    Westward expansion doctrine

Dwight D. Eisenhower (34)                                       California & New Mexico

How will our current and immediate past presidents fare when the long lens of time focuses on them? After the veil of populism and political chicanery is removed, what lasting achievements will remain? The same scrutiny applies to local and regional politicians as well.


The recent loss of Alameda County Supervisor Richard Valle is a reminder of the fragility of life given to each of us. Supervisor Valle was a valued member of the local leadership team and a genuinely sincere and honest person. I had the pleasure of knowing him as an engaging and genuine human being, dedicated to the health and welfare of his local communities. RIP Richard.