Bill Eubank, Dick Nixon and Other Mentors

How the Hell do we have a President’s Day?

I am certain I am the only American that genuinely loves President’s Day that hasn’t served in the White House or attended an RC Willey sale. To me, it’s not the three-day weekend or the big box sale prices. It’s not because it always seem to fall in that much needed part of the winter where I need a Monday off with my family or the fact that it offers a brief reminder of the commander in chief of the US. I think it’s because I like the idea of celebrating a handful of people that has defined this nation.

Originally President’s Day was set aside to celebrate George Washington’s birthday. Because Abe Lincoln’s B-day is February 12th they lumped them both together. I think that’s fair. Washington is the father of the nation but Lincoln preserved it. I guess it the least we can do to thank them by taking the day off and buy a new Honda.

I have a Political Science degree from the University of Nevada. I fell into the hardest of the soft sciences when my friend, Marcel Levy, suggested that Poli-Sci would be a good general major for me. Considering I was pretty aimless my first year in school, I figured it was a legitimate field to study. I had always enjoyed history and writing and I thought that it would be a good major. Besides, like most aimless liberal arts students, I figured I was just going to law school and it didn’t matter what I studied.

Probably should have thought that through a bit more.

Nonetheless, the Political Science Department at UNR was a good fit. Not because I had a natural ability at it (translation: didn’t have to work hard at it) but because I found myself in a department with a Dr. William Eubank. A southern gentleman who liked baseball and the Grateful Dead, he taught constitutional law and elections and voting patterns. He could have taught embroidering and it would have been the best class any one of you have ever taken. He is diminutive in stature with a booming voice coming through a neatly trimmed greyed beard. He commanded his classes like an R. Lee Ermey drill session: pointed, firm and unforgiving.

He was the first teacher that I ever had that I feared. Prior to college, there were teachers that I hated but I never was in fear of the repercussions of not preforming inside of their classroom. It was easy to shrug off an instructor who was trying to make an impact as being “pushy” or being a “prick.” Dr. Eubank was the first teacher I genuinely respected because he was able to convene a sense of compassion and expectation from every one of his students. It made for nerve-racking classrooms and hours of preparation for every class.

In a word, he made college what it was suppose to be: a learning experience.

His class on constitutional law was my first real experience with hitting the books. Like something out of The Paper Chase, we were expected to read case law and he’d ask pointed questions about each of the decisions. I was outmatched during every class and lived in fear of being called upon to summarize any of the cases. Failing to grasp what Eubank wanted, I asked Marcel how to prep for the classes and he suggested breaking the cases into the terms of the presidents. It was a way to put a time and place to the coursework and it seemed to make sense to me.

Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and the rest of the fellas. In learning about contracts between the states, commerce and international law, I found myself more interested in the men than the bills they signed into law. Learning about the presidents was more of a lesson in American history than the men themselves. Plantation owners, farmers, printers, traders, slaves, indentured servants, merchants and all points in-between became the actors in the American drama and it was riveting stuff.

I think the thing that I found most interesting was the fact that there even were presidential elections. Granted, only white, land-owning men could vote but the fact that the original thirteen states held elections is incredible to me. Simply the technology needed or lack thereof to host a national election is incredible. And the fact that they have been held every four since Washington to 2012 is something we should always been in constant amazement.

Lincoln choosing to hold elections during the Civil War is even more incredible. We give despots and dictators way too much credit—they are a hell of a lot worse than we could imagine. Lincoln could have made himself king and yet put the fate of his office and the country for that matter in the hands of people that he probably had very little in common with. I think this is why I like Lincoln the most.

I both read the paper and watched the early evening news and besides commenting that it was President’s Day, there was no mention of it. The purpose of a national holiday is to draw attention to the day and not the six-months no interest layaway plans available. I think we should have more holidays. Let’s make Cinco de Mayo a national holiday. Let’s honor women’s suffrage with it’s own holiday. Whether or not we add days off, let’s make sure the dumbest member of our society knows why the post offices are closed for the day. President’s Day should have had at least 25-seconds worth of history in the news.

I think the big reason why we sweep President’s Day under the rug is that the president is very polarizing. The fact that they run for the office and ask everyone to say, “Why, yes, I do like you and not the other guy,” makes for some ego-driven figures. Nobody, besides Tony Blair, kinda liked George W. You either loved or hated him. Obama is revered by the left and hated by the right. It’s the nature of the two-party system that at any time, barely less than 50% of the country is going to hate the guy in charge.

One of my favorite jokes of all time was proposing to rename everything in the United State Ronald Reagan [fill-in-the-gap]. Every new airport, bridge, state road, church and library would be named after the Gipper. The flipside to this honor is that every disease, natural disaster and epidemic would carry his name. I thought it was hysterical that incest would now be referred to Reagan Syndrome. Needless to say, my friend, Stacy Chain, did not think this was funny. Fortunately, Erin did and that’s why we celebrated seven years together on Tuesday.

I used to host a President’s Day party. The last one I hosted, I dressed up like Howard Taft and ate a six-foot party sub. I wanted to go as James Polk and claim California for myself but timing was against me. I would be very surprised anybody held a President’s Day party in the 801 simply because GW Bush has been out of office for the last three years.

I haven’t thought of Mr. Eubank and his classroom for a long time but I think the lessons learned in his nerve-wracking lectures are still with me. Always come prepared, try and predict what the sought after answer will be and never be afraid to try something harder than you’ve attempted in the past. Great teachers don’t just instruct the material—they offer outside lessons that you can apply to all situations. Finishing five of Eubank’s classes throughout college prepared me for more things than the long term consequences of Plessy v. Ferguson.

So, I hope all had a good President’s Day weekend. I did. The club was a zoo for Friday and Saturday, we spent a lovely evening at our friend’s house on Sunday and rested all day Monday. I thumbed through a presidential trivia book and threw up a couple of tweets about lesser known presidents. I saved the best for last: Richard Nixon is the first president to eat moo goo gai pan. Look it up.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Check out his podcast, Salt Lake City PubCast. Be a mensch and vote for him on City Weekly Best of Utah for either blogger of the year or best abs.

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