With this week’s federal shutdown, the Statue of Liberty and Fort Sumter are closed, as expected. But government monuments that need no attendants are also barricaded against the public. In the case of the Lincoln Memorial, it may be the first time in its history that the public has been prevented from visiting.
War memorials were also barricaded until Wednesday, when they were reopened on a “free speech exception,” or rather pretext. Apparently the administration was trying to forestall the surge of critical comments regarding the National Park Service’s efforts to keep elderly veterans from visiting the memorials built to honor their service.
Such wholesale closures didn’t happen in previous government shutdowns, which occurred with regularity when Democrats controlled the House during the Reagan presidency, and once when Republicans controlled the House during the Clinton years.
Government barricades are in place at Mount Vernon’s parking lots, although George Washington’s home overlooking the Potomac River is not owned by the government. The Mount Vernon Foundation has joint ownership of the parking lots with the National Park Service, but that did not stop Park Service from closing them.
The Claude Moore Colonial Farm in McLean, Va., a small farm museum run by a private foundation, but located on public land, was told by the Park Service that it could not receive visitors. Sadly, there are many tales of government concessionaires who have been forced to close even though they wish to remain open at no cost to the government.
The City Tavern in Philadelphia, a privately run establishment dating back to the Constitutional Convention, was forced to close its doors because it is within a federal park.
Nauset Knoll Motor Lodge, within the Cape Cod National Seashore, was given two days to dismiss its current guests and was forbidden from accepting any new ones.
Rafting outfitters in Utah have been barred from trips through Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River, a public park, and told they may not use government put-in sites elsewhere on the river.
Even the National Zoo’s popular “panda cam,” where viewers could watch the newborn panda online, has been turned off. The cam is funded with a private grant.
But there are signs of resistance as well. In addition to the civil disobedience by World War II veterans in Washington this week, the NPS concessionaire that operates the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway south of Asheville, N.C., announced he would defy a government order to shut down.
One raft operator in Utah says the government is “squeezing us tighter than it needs to.” The same sentiment can be heard elsewhere in the nation as people confront an inflexible government.
House Republican were instrumental in forcing the shutdown, though neither the president nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., were willing to negotiate on disputed issues.
President Obama has pursued an inflexible course with the shutdown.
When House Republicans proposed bills to keep open national parks and monuments, and to ensure that the Veterans Administration and the District of Columbia government continue operations, the White House said it would veto them. The president has also said he will not negotiate with the House, in contrast to Presidents Reagan and Clinton.
Perhaps Mr. Obama thinks his harsh approach to the crisis will demonstrate his toughness. Mainly it reveals a regrettable unwillingness to compromise.
Both sides need to demonstrate the capacity to negotiate. The shutdown can’t be allowed to degenerate into default.