The games politicians play: Barack Obama is having a lot of fun using the government shutdown to squeeze the public in imaginative ways. The point of the shutdown game is to see who can squeeze hardest, make the most pious speech and listen for the applause. It’s a variation on the grade-school ritual of “you show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.”
President Obama is not a bad poker player, but the man with all the chips always starts with the advantage (and he gets all the aces). He has closed Washington down as tight as he dares, emphasizing the trivial and the petty in making life as inconvenient as he can for the greatest number. It’s all in a noble cause, of course. Access to most of the memorials is limited, and often in curious ways. The Lincoln Memorial is easy to reach, with the streets around it remaining open. But the Martin Luther King Memorial is made difficult to reach, relegating it, you might say, to the back of the bus. Not very nice.
The Park Service appears to be closing streets on mere whim and caprice. The rangers even closed the parking lot at Mount Vernon, where the plantation home of George Washington is a favorite tourist destination. That was after they barred the new World War II Memorial on the Mall to veterans of World War II. But the government does not own Mount Vernon; it is privately owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. The ladies bought it years ago to preserve it as a national memorial. The feds closed access to the parking lots this week, even though the lots are jointly owned with the Mount Vernon ladies. The rangers are from the government, and they’re only here to help.
“It’s a cheap way to deal with the situation,” an angry Park Service ranger in Washington says of the harassment. “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can. It’s disgusting.”
The Republicans, fighting with smaller-bore weaponry, keep trying to get some things reopened with carefully targeted legislation. The Senate, under the thumbs of Sen. Harry Reid and the White House, refuses to budge from the trivial and the petty. It says here that Harry Reid’s critics, and they are legion, should give the guy a break. No man in Washington is under the pressure he is, and it doesn’t seem quite cricket to do that to an old man, even one who deserves it.
Harry is at the breaking point, weary from exhausting his thesaurus for synonyms for “arsonist” and “terrorist” and “pillager.” Everyone could see the cracks in his exchange with Dana Bash, a reporter for CNN, who asked why, if he is concerned about children with cancer who are unable to enter clinical trials for new drugs because Mr. Obama shut down the National Institutes of Health, why stifle Republican attempts to grant a little relief?
“If you can help one child who has cancer, why wouldn’t you do it?” the reporter asked.
“Why would we want to do that?” Mr. Reid snapped back. “I have 1,100 people at Nellis Air Force Base that are sitting home. They have a few problems of their own. This is — to have someone of your intelligence to suggest such a thing maybe means you’re irresponsible and reckless.”
Over the next two days, Mr. Reid tried to take back, change, adjust and recalibrate his remarks. It’s all John Boehner’s fault. The senator cares not just about the National Institutes of Health, but the Centers for Disease Control, too. The senator likes babies. In fact, he’s quite a stud. And he thinks Dana Bash is “a fine reporter.”
“Listen, I gave a speech on the [Senate] floor, talking about babies, 30 babies. I have 16 of my own grandchildren, and five children.” So suffer the little children, and they will inherit the kingdom of heaven; they just can’t come unto the Senate while Harry stands in the door. (If what happens in Las Vegas is supposed to stay in Las Vegas, how did Harry get out?)