A Student-Run Public History Blog from Chicago
Cross-posted at dvhunter.com
An unexpected media and political discourse has emerged as the Federal government nears a second week of being ‘shutdown.’ Access to sites under the watch of the National Park Service (NPS) became a political football. The conversation started almost simultaneous to the actual shutdown, when a squad of octo- and nonagenarian Mississippians stormed the barricades of the World War II Memorial in the middle of the National Mall. An irresistible media story, for certain. Politicians–as they do–seized on the spectacle. The next day a GOP Congressman berated an NPS ranger charged with manning the barricades, in truly a pathetic display even for Washington politics.
NPS closures became highly visible, with signs, barriers, and traffic cones juxtaposed against heritage sites and natural treasures. GOP congressmen offered the President a “compromise” that would have reopened the NPS sites while budget talks continued. President Obama turned down the proposal, and his rivals immediately attempted to seize the moral high ground. Some pundits ran with the idea that preventing access to “open-air monuments” was unconscionable, if not outright illegal.
Let’s turn to a bona fide, PhD’d historian for further discussion on the matter:
(Dr. Newt may have a point about the privately-owned Mt. Vernon)
Some pushed backed, explaining that because of the furlough the NPS could in no way manage or oversee these sites. If it was easy to tag Abe Lincoln a few weeks ago, think about now. And that, no, it did not cost more to pay rangers to barricade sites than it does to keep them open. Then an image of a blocked-off scenic state highway near Mt. Rushmore emerged, followed by stories of private vendors (and residents) of National Park land being removed by authorities. On Monday news broke across the blogosphere that ‘Obama would allow’ a union-backed immigration rights rally on the National Mall, even though ‘he had closed it’ for everyone else.
I’m willing to wager that the NPS is the most mentioned Federal agency over the last few days. All this for an agency who’s annual operating costs make up 1/13th of 1% of the Federal budget. So what gives? Here are four angles on the central symbolic role of the NPS during the shutdown.
All of these points are interdependent. None of the four make sense without considering the other three. Yet we haven’t seen much discussion about #4 from public historians (but something might be developing on Twitter), and we haven’t seen much discussion of #3 from politicians. Someday in the distant future, academic historians will parse the oncoming fallout from this political fight. Public historians might want to investigate the issue a bit sooner.