CHARLES McDOWELL of The Richmond Times-Dispatch, rather than Julian Scheer of the LTV Corporation, is right about February.
Charlie's judgment is somewhat short of thorough scholarship, but well within the accepted standards for newspaper comment. He is a good enough observer, in the short run, to make profound judgements for the long run, both prospectively and retrospectively.
Neither poets, philosophers of historians have had anything good to say about February, at least in the Anglo-Saxon tradition.
"February bears the bier," wrote Shelley. Even a "good" February was considered bad in medieval times. "All the months in the year curse a fair February,"runs one proverb. Another is that "A Welshman would rather see his mother dead, than see a fair February."
Feburary is not a month distinguished by any significant natural phenomenon. It has no equinox like March or September; no solstice like December or June. It is not named after a significant god or even after an emperor. The early Romans dedicated February to the nether world. During February they worshiped Pluto and the souls of their dead ancestors. They looked down and back, rather than forward. It was a time of no decisions.
Even the animals shun decision-making in February. It is a month of deep hibernation. Bodily and mental functions are at the lowest level. Only the groundhog, by reputation, breaks the pattern, and then only for a quick look at his shadow. His response is not reflective, but automatic. If he sees his shadow he returns to hibernate for another six weeks. If he doesn't see his shadow he also returns to hibernate for six weeks, according to most groundhog experts.
The most serious consequence of misunderstanding February was the passage of the "lame duck" amendment to the Constitution of the United States in February 1933.
Why it was proposed and why accepted is difficult to determine or to explain. There was no record of constitutional crisis in any way related to the March inauguration of presidents. There was in 1932 no prospect of any such crisis. There was no record of lame-duck presidents having abused the power of the office between the January date for inauguration prescribed by the amendment and the old March 4 date established by Congress in 1792. There was no record of frustration of newly elected presidents because of the additional two-month wait.
One obvious undesirable consequence of the adoption of the 20th Amendment is that newly elected presidents, instead of having four months during which to prepare to take over the executive branch of the government, are allowed little more than two months.
Franklin Roosevelt, the last president to take office before the amendment became effective had approximately 220 days between his election and the end of the famous "one hundred days." President Reagon, in contrast, will have had only 180 days between his election date and the end of his first 100 days in office.
More serious than the shortening of the time between election and office-taking is the fact that the 20th Amendment puts newly elected presidents in office during February. It places them under pressure to make decisions then. February should be a month of nondecision.
Presidents ending their terms should be kept in office through February while their political ambitions and aspirations slowly die. They should be encouraged to read seed catalogs during the month, and possibly pardon a few prisoners.
Newly elected presidents should not be put in a position or under pressure to make decisions any earlier than the Ides of March.
Since we cannot repeal February, we should repeal the 20th Amendment, as politically the next best thing.