FOOLS AND THEIR MONEY
As I predicted last week, the Republicans now want to put Ronald Reagans face on the $10 bill, replacing Alexander Hamilton, or on the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson. Another movement is under way to put Reagans face on half of all dimes, so he would share that currency with Franklin Roosevelt. Republican senators and congressmen are already preparing legislation to these effects.
I have an alternative proposal: Remove all
political faces from all
U.S. currency. Replace them with pictures of purple mountains, fruited plains, and shining seas.
The United States is supposed to be a country ungoverned by royalty or divine right. We dont bow down to kings, we dont kneel to queens. We have never had a saint elected to the White House, despite what Dick Cheney says about Reagan and my mother says about FDR. It is time we stopped worshipping our presidents. We should stop standing up when they enter the room. (As civil servants, they should stand for us.) We should stop addressing them as Mr. President and instead call them just plain Bill or George. We should, please, please, stop playing Hail to the Chief when they enter the room. And we should stop creating iconography that idolizes them, on our money or anywhere else. That way leads to imperial presidents who think they can start wars on their own, who feel no need to follow international treaties approved by congress, and who believe they can jail or torture whomever they please, the courts be damned. Hail is but a half-step removed from heil.
When it comes to virtue, I wouldnt give a plug nickel for any president weve ever had, and that includes Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington. Of necessity, presidents are tough, ambitious politicians. Both the adjectives and the noun require them to do their work far from the realms of virtue. In terms of integrity, most presidents have been neither worse nor better than your average CEO.
I have known only one president virtuous enough to be put on a coin. His name was Terry Weathers. He was my father. (Yeah, yeah, sentimental slop. Forgive me this once: Fathers Day is next week.) My father was, for a time, president of the New York State School Boards Association. This office brought him not one Roosevelt dime nor one scintilla of power, but no one in any White House ever worked harder than he did, as an unpaid volunteeer, to fulfill his official duty, which was to try to improve the public schools in his state. There are thousands of other such selfless men and women who have been presidents of school boards, Little Leagues, and downtown improvement organizations. They deserve far more than a Reagan or a Kennedy to be on our bills and coins. Put those presidents on our money.
In case you werent paying attention, here are the people on our current currency:
Penny -- Lincoln
Nickel -- Jefferson
Dime -- Roosevelt
50-cent piece -- Kennedy
Dollar coin -- Sacagawea, Eisenhower, Susan B. Anthony
Dollar bill -- Washington
$2 bill -- Jefferson
$5 bill -- Lincoln
$10 bill -- Hamilton
$20 bill -- Andrew Jackson
$50 bill -- Ulysses S. Grant
$100 bill----Benjamin Franklin
$500 bill--William McKinley
$1,000 bill -- Grover Cleveland
$5,000 bill -- James Madison
$10,000 bill -- Salmon Chase
$100,000 bill -- Woodrow Wilson
Bet you didnt know there even was a $100,000 bill. Actually, it was never in general circulation. It made a brief appearance in the 1930s and was traded only among Federal Reserve banks; it was as evanescent as Woodrow Wilson himself. How meaningful is it to have your face on money? The $10,000 bill has on it a forgotten man named after a fish (Salmon Chase was Lincolns secretary of the treasury). Since 1969, the largest paper money in general circulation has been the $100 bill. Poor McKinley, Cleveland, Madison, Chase and Wilson must have had worse press agents even than the inept U.S. Grant. At least Grant is still circulating.
And now the Republicans want Reagan in our pockets, too.
A nationally-syndicated editorial cartoon yesterday showed Reagans head towering above those of the presidents on Mount Rushmore. It was a funny cartoon, though I suspect the cartoonist was trying to be serious. Mount Rushmore is of course itself a bizarre and laughable monument to presidential idolatry. Presidential images would be better left to hang on dim stairway walls in musty federal buildings or to reside in shadowed nooks where backroom politics are perpetrated.
But the Mount Rushmore image did get me thinking. Thanks largely to the policies of Reagan and his neocon descendants, the rich today are richer than ever. Therefore, if we must put Ronald Reagans mug on our money, lets do it right. Lets put him head and shoulders above all other presidents: I hereby propose the Ronald Reagan million-dollar bill.