If we ask ourselves why we have no palaces or castles here in the U.S., the answer is obvious: We have no royalty-not even the impoverished sort - to inhabit them. The president is not a king; nor is his house a castle-not any more than any other American's, that is (in fact, the president's house isn't even really his).
One of the things that is setting people's teeth on edge about the newly revealed plan to keep the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House permanently closed is the sense that if the Secret Service and the National Park Service (and clearly President Clinton as well) have their way, the White House will become a sort of Buckingham Palace on the Potomac.
Mr. Clinton shut the street down about a year ago, in response to the Oklahoma City bombing. No one, of course, would deny that the president needs protection. But a convincing case can be—and has been —made that there are other methods available for protecting him. And the brick and cobblestone walks; the quotations from presidents embedded in the street (to be repaved in light-colored stone); the emblem—possibly a star—to alert visitors they're in a special place; all these "improvements" envisioned by the Park Service surely seem the kind of trappings we democrats happily live without.
It stands to reason that if you ask Secret Service officials how to ensure that no car bomber can ever get close enough to blow up the White House, they are going to bring up their long-cherished hope— which was dashed by numerous presidents before Mr. Clinton—of sealing off the avenue (despite the fact that the only intruders who have come close to doing any harm arrived not by auto but on foot and in a small plane). And if you then go and ask the Park Service what should be done to spruce up the now unused street, it makes sense that they will propose turning it into an elaborate, $40 million park.
The arguments against are compelling. There is, for one thing, the enormous financial wastefulness of the plan proposed this week. And then there is the serious damage the shutdown has done to the beleaguered District of Columbia. Business, tourism and parking revenues have been adversely affected. And traffic has become a nightmare. As D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton very aptly put it, "Pennsylvania Avenue is not a park. It is the major downtown east-west artery in the nation's capital."
But it is far more than that. It is, to quote the sense-of-the-Senate resolution to reopen the avenue proposed by Sens. Rod Grams, Chuck Robb and Ted Stevens, "America's Main Street" and "a powerful symbol of freedom, openness, and an individual's access to their government."
That is not something most Americans will be pleased to give up.Return to Park