The Magazine

The Battle for the War Memorial

Oct 14, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 06 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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All politics is local, the late Tip O’Neill is alleged to have said. The Scrapbook isn’t quite sure if that’s true. But it has certainly been true during the “shutdown” of the federal government, in which President Obama has used metropolitan Washington, D.C., as a stage on which to dramatize his talking points. 

Memorial

Reps. Michele Bachmann and Bill Huizenga help an Honor Flight volunteer remove barriers at the World War II Memorial, October 2.

Landov

To begin with, the administration has been, shall we say, remarkably selective about what gets shut down, and why. Before the Internet, for example, the interruption of postal service would have grabbed the nation’s attention; but not so much nowadays, which probably explains why the mail was delivered while other functions ceased. And of course, the White House knew that the television networks would need good visuals to accompany their stories, especially since the stories were largely told from the White House point of view. So there were images of rangers closing the gates at Yosemite, and epidemiologists on furlough at the Centers for Disease Control. The Smithsonian Institution, which boasts a colossal endowment and largely subsists on private contributions and commercial marketing, ostentatiously closed its doors.

Most egregious, however, was the National Park Service. The Scrapbook has noted with dismay, in years past, the extent to which the Park Service has evolved from a minor agency administering parks and presidential homesteads into a virtual government-within-a-government. It is the Park Service which decides when, how, and—most important—if you can visit those properties that theoretically belong to the American people. Indeed, in downtown Washington, motorists can be stopped and ticketed by Park Service police.

Moreover, the Park Service is corruptible. When Bill and Hillary Clinton wanted to make sure that the official investigation into the 1993 suicide of White House aide Vincent Foster went smoothly, they handed the task to forensic investigators at,​yes, the National Park Service. Now the Park Service is doing the bidding of the Obama White House, and in its customarily heavy-handed fashion: Monument grounds in Washington​—​the Jefferson Memorial and the new Martin Luther King site, among others​—​have been closed and barricaded. So have pocket parking lots along the George Washington Parkway. One Park Service official said that, since the National Mall itself is federal property, it is officially “closed” as well, and that trespassers​—​that is to say, citizens and visitors strolling along the Mall​—​might be subject to arrest.

Most dramatic was the spectacle at the World War II Memorial. The memorial is, of course, federal property on the Mall, and Park Service rangers can occasionally be seen strolling in the vicinity. But it is also a sizable, open structure, deliberately accessible to pedestrians, who ordinarily may traverse the premises day or night. 

On the first day of the shutdown, a group of visiting World War II veterans from Mississippi​—​some in wheelchairs​—​were met with barricades and glowering rangers. With the assistance of a handful of sympathetic congressmen, the veterans breached the barricade. “Normandy was closed when we got there, too,” read one popular sign. But that merely prompted the Park Service to employ more federal workers to erect bigger barricades, and union groups friendly to the Obama White House to pay for anti-GOP protesters to picket at the memorial and disrupt the visits by veterans.

The “shutdown” federal government remained open for the business of politics, and as visiting veterans discovered on the Mall, nothing trumps politics in Barack Obama’s Washington.

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