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Park police overstep their jurisdiction

Published: Thursday, October 17th, 2013

“We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around.”
—Ronald Reagan
The conduct of the National Park Service over the last week might be the biggest scandal of the Obama administration. This is an expansive claim, of course. Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS, the NSA, the HHS mandate​—​this is an administration that has not lacked for appalling abuses of power. And we still have three years to go.
Even so, consider the actions of the National Park Service since the government shutdown began. People first noticed what the NPS was up to when the World War II Memorial on the National Mall was “closed.” Just to be clear, the memorial is an open plaza. There is nothing to operate. Sometimes there might be a Ranger standing around. But he’s not collecting tickets or opening gates. Putting up barricades and posting guards to “close” the World War II Memorial takes more resources and manpower than “keeping it open.”
We’re not done yet. The parking lot at Mount Vernon was closed by the NPS, too, even though the Park Service does not own Mount Vernon; it just controls access to the parking lots from the George Washington Parkway. At the Vietnam Memorial​—​which is just a wall you walk past​—​the NPS called in police to block access. But the pièce de résistance occurred in South Dakota. The Park Service wasn’t content just to close Mount Rushmore. No, it went the extra mile and put out orange cones to block the little scenic overlook areas on the roads near Mount Rushmore. You know, just to make sure no taxpayers could catch a glimpse of it.
It’s one thing for politicians to play shutdown theater. It’s another thing entirely for a civil bureaucracy entrusted with the privilege of caring for our national heritage to wage war against the citizenry on behalf of a political party. This is how deep the politicization of Barack Obama’s administration goes.
It’s worth recalling that the Park Service has always been deeply ambivalent about the public which it is charged with serving. In a 2005 Weekly Standard piece about the NPS’s plan to reconfigure the National Mall, Andrew Ferguson reported:
The Park Service’s ultimate desire was made public, indiscreetly, by John Parsons, associate regional park director for the mall. In 2000 Parsons told the Washington Post he hoped that eventually all unauthorized traffic, whether by foot or private car, would be moved off the mall. Visitors could park in distant satellite lots and be bused to nodal points, where they would be watered and fed, allowed to tour a monument and then reboard a bus and head for another monument. “Just like at Disneyland,” Parsons told the Post. “Nobody drives through Disneyland. They’re not allowed. And we’ve got the better theme park.” Yes, yes. They must protect America’s treasures from the ugly Americans.
“To make life as difficult for people as we can”​—​that would be an apt motto for the Obama worldview. And now even the misanthropes at the National Park Service have been yoked to his project. This is the clearest example yet of how the president understands the relationship between his government and the citizenry.
Published on The Weekly Standard
By Jonathan V. Last

“We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around.”

—Ronald Reagan

The conduct of the National Park Service over the last week might be the biggest scandal of the Obama administration. This is an expansive claim, of course. Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS, the NSA, the HHS mandate​—​this is an administration that has not lacked for appalling abuses of power. And we still have three years to go.

Even so, consider the actions of the National Park Service since the government shutdown began. People first noticed what the NPS was up to when the World War II Memorial on the National Mall was “closed.” Just to be clear, the memorial is an open plaza. There is nothing to operate. Sometimes there might be a Ranger standing around. But he’s not collecting tickets or opening gates. Putting up barricades and posting guards to “close” the World War II Memorial takes more resources and manpower than “keeping it open.”

We’re not done yet. The parking lot at Mount Vernon was closed by the NPS, too, even though the Park Service does not own Mount Vernon; it just controls access to the parking lots from the George Washington Parkway. At the Vietnam Memorial​—​which is just a wall you walk past​—​the NPS called in police to block access. But the pièce de résistance occurred in South Dakota. The Park Service wasn’t content just to close Mount Rushmore. No, it went the extra mile and put out orange cones to block the little scenic overlook areas on the roads near Mount Rushmore. You know, just to make sure no taxpayers could catch a glimpse of it.

It’s one thing for politicians to play shutdown theater. It’s another thing entirely for a civil bureaucracy entrusted with the privilege of caring for our national heritage to wage war against the citizenry on behalf of a political party. This is how deep the politicization of Barack Obama’s administration goes.

It’s worth recalling that the Park Service has always been deeply ambivalent about the public which it is charged with serving. In a 2005 Weekly Standard piece about the NPS’s plan to reconfigure the National Mall, Andrew Ferguson reported:

The Park Service’s ultimate desire was made public, indiscreetly, by John Parsons, associate regional park director for the mall. In 2000 Parsons told the Washington Post he hoped that eventually all unauthorized traffic, whether by foot or private car, would be moved off the mall. Visitors could park in distant satellite lots and be bused to nodal points, where they would be watered and fed, allowed to tour a monument and then reboard a bus and head for another monument. “Just like at Disneyland,” Parsons told the Post. “Nobody drives through Disneyland. They’re not allowed. And we’ve got the better theme park.” Yes, yes. They must protect America’s treasures from the ugly Americans.

“To make life as difficult for people as we can”​—​that would be an apt motto for the Obama worldview. And now even the misanthropes at the National Park Service have been yoked to his project. This is the clearest example yet of how the president understands the relationship between his government and the citizenry.

Published on The Weekly Standard

By Jonathan V. Last



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