Recent article in Slate Online magazine proclaimed November: “National Awareness Month Awareness Month.” The humorous article contained a link to this list of presidential proclamations, which puts issues in the presidential spotlight ranging from General Casmir Pulaski Day, an Illinois state holiday, to National Oceans Week. While presidential acknowledgement can’t hurt a campaign, I question to what extent presidential proclamations actually benefit a campaign. For instance, try and identify which one of the following proclamations is fictional:
- A. National Poison Prevention Week
- B. National Folk Music Appreciation Week
- C. Military Spouse Day
- D. National Sanctity of Human Life Day
If you answered B, you were correct. But odds are you didn’t. As of October 30, President Obama had issued 109 Presidential Proclamations. George Washington issued the first presidential proclamation in 1789 basically restating republican principles of government and proclaiming “Thursday, the 26th day of November next” in its honor. Washington’s lone proclamation of 1789 would later become the basis for the American holiday of Thanksgiving (in 1863 it was changed to the 4th Thursday in November).
Washington’s proclamation created a dominant national holiday. What do modern presidential proclamations get you? Maybe ten minutes on a television news network. Presidential proclamations are derivatives of executive orders, which are directed at internal publics. However, since presidential proclamations are directed towards external publics, there’s no way to compel people to obey them. For that reason, it’s not surprising that they have lessened in value.
My conclusion: While a presidential proclamation never hurts a campaign, what real benefits will it provide for your campaign? Who knows.