The White House divide
So just like that, Pennsylvania Avenue in front of
the White House, the heavily traveled street once shared by
presidents, foreign leaders, commuters and tourists driving
past, has been "permanently" shut to all vehicular traffic.
The weekend closure, ordered without notice ahead of Monday
mornings rush, made two points: That criminals and crazies are
driving Americans deeper into their bunkers. And the power of the
presidency -- sometimes surprisingly -- can reach everywhere,
from global wars to traffic engineering at the presidential
President Clinton's decision for the Pennsylvania Avenue
shutdown - mildly criticized for abruptness -- had been obvious,
even before its recommendation by a Treasury Department review of
White House security.
The facts of life in America now make it clear that when
fanatics of whatever delusions plan and execute a devastating
bomb attack against a symbol of federal authority in Oklahoma
City, everything else from the White House to the U.S. Capitol to
federal dams and Forest Service cabins are logical targets for
More familiar criminals have forced us into a long retreat from
what was once normal life. Across much of America, bank tellers,
gas station operators, taxicab drivers, even clerks at
convenience stores and dry cleaners deal with their customers
through bullet-proof glass.
Our fears and well-publicized incidents tell us armed killers
roam the streets and even the schools, preying on luckless
victims caught unaware or away from the crowd.
Homes and apartments that years ago were open to family and
neighbors are double-locked and bolted.
We've been living for a long time with the criminal threat and
the accompanying threat that we can as easily be done in by
gun-tofing friends and family, and we're used to it.
We're used to being robbed --not just expecting that some day we
night be robbed of our money or our lives, but robbed every day
when we can't live as we'd like with-out threat.
We've also beconle aware of crazies who in the past several
years have set off bombs at the Capitol and other government
buildings, that fact of life now requiring ID badges and metal
detector check stations if you want to visit your congressman or
go to work or just pay your water bill.
It's not likely the crazies will stop setting off bombs, but Mr.
Clinton's closing of Pennsylvania Avenue does what it had to:
moves America's most famous dwelling a little farther off an
To consider, as the president was asked to consider, that some
other truck some day could be parked in front of the White House
and, in an instant, nn explosion could blow the executive mansion
aud surrounding buildings to smithereens, required nothing less
than closure of a portion of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Sadly, that's where we are and where we're going more and more
government offices and people in their homes hiding farther down
in the bunkers so criminals and crazies won't be tempted to
That one comical note in the president's decision was the muted
criticism, most from officials ofthe District of Columbia and
some from members of Congress, that they were not consulted
before the street in front ofthe "People's House" was closed.
Aside from the obvious fact that any advance notice might have
spurred some fanatic to act while the street was still open, the
suggestion of consultations the president should have carried out
has a certain quality of burlesque.
The Washington city government, led again by its fallen and
revived Mayor Marion Barry, a woeful City Council and a
bureaucracy so inept it couldn't manage a two-car funeral, would
be useful in consultation only in reaching for whatever glory or
petty payoffs might have come within reach.
And consult with Congress? It could have taken months of prattle
about the need to understand what makes terrorists tick or the
need to hang terrorists from the nearest lamppost, or how Sen.
Phil Gramm's aged "momma" would use her "little 38-special" to
deal with terrorists.
It wasn't a pleasant decision or one to make us proud. But
President Clinton made the right decision at the right time.
Leonard E. Lursen is a columnist for Scripps Howard News
Pennsylvania Ave. Closure || Peace Park