On Friday afternoon, when President Obama and Vice President Biden strolled away from the White House on foot, the press had a brief moment of anticipatory ecstasy. Because the Obama Administration has been the world's longest exercise in Aaron Sorkin fan fiction, there were murmurs that Obama might be taking a page straight out of an episode of The West Wing where the fictional President Bartlet gained the upper hand in a government shutdown by walking from the White House to Capitol Hill to negotiate with congressional Republicans. Our flesh and blood chief executive's peripatetic stylings were slightly less grandiose: he wanted a sandwich.
Obama and Biden reportedly chose their lunch spot partially because it was offering a discount to furloughed federal workers (though, as The Hill notes in as arch a fashion as its editorial style will allow, the food run may have been inspired just as much by the fact that the White House Mess is serving a limited menu during the shutdown). That’s a pretty bantamweight symbolic gesture. It’s also a telling choice – when the government shut down, the people the president was most concerned to demonstrate solidarity with were public employees.
Now, look, the conservative opposition to big government shouldn’t translate into automatic contempt for those federal workers. Many of them, of course, are necessary, and even in the much larger group that isn’t there are probably plenty of decent people. Are they pawns in this whole thing? Sure. But haven’t we been down this road enough times that that they can anticipate that? Message to all government employees: in these tug-of-war contests, you’ll always be the rope. No, people in the private sector don’t have to deal with that, but, unlike you, they can be fired – so I’d say you still come out ahead.
You know what would have been a meaningful gesture? Walking down to the World War II Memorial, removing the barricades, and shaking the hand of every veteran who had made his pilgrimage to the Mall. Of course, it would have been an even more meaningful gesture had Obama’s OMB not ordered it shut in the first place. Now it looks like the wages of that pettiness are going to come back to bite the Administration, with plans for a "Million Vet March" on Washington on Sunday. According to the organizers:
We do not care what political leanings you may be; be it liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent or whatever. The actions of the U.S. government this week with regard to barricading and shutting down the World War II Memorial to veterans, that may or may not be on their last trip to Washington DC, is a despicable act of cowardice.
… Many in our group have decided that enough is enough. We are Americans. We are proud of our heritage and our service. As all of us were military brats and spouses, we have served in some form or another our entire lives. This is our way of life. We will not stand by and let the U.S. government dishonor the legacy of sacrifice of the generations before us. It is time to make a stand! We hope that you will join us in our peaceful protest against anti-American policies.
I rarely have an appetite for protests of any kind – they tend to be more about the people protesting than the ostensible cause – but after the World War II Memorial, the North Carolina Inn, the Virginia park, the San Francisco restaurant … this seems like an ideal time for some extremely civil disobedience.
I can’t think of anything that would demonstrate the pettiness of the Obama Administration – not to mention the spirit of the American people – better than people throughout the country showing up at unnecessarily closed memorials, opening up unnecessarily closed business, and generally telling the feds to go pound sand. As symbolic gestures go, that beats buying a sandwich.