A ‘Shutdown’ Can’t Stop the Greatest Generation

World War II veterans didn’t let barricades prevent them from visiting a D.C. memorial.

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World War II Veteran George Bloss, from Gulfport, Miss., looks out over the National World War II Memorial in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Veterans who had traveled from across the country were allowed to visit the National World War II Memorial after it had been officially closed because of the partial government shutdown. After their visit, National World War II Memorial was closed again.

Hitler couldn't stop them. Tojo couldn't stop them. Mussolini couldn't stop them. And neither could the federal government.

On Tuesday, as the federal government was "shutting down" all but what are laughably referred to as "essential services," a group of veterans from Mississippi pushed aside the barricades that the National Park Service had erected around the World War II memorial in order to pay tribute to their fallen comrades and their long-ago struggle.

The story, which has been picked up by The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and most other major news outlets is a poignant reminder that most Americans do not have time for the silliness that so many people in the nation's capital take all too seriously.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the government shutdown.]

Breathless media reports and political fundraising appeals aside, the federal government does not "shutdown" when it runs out of money; the president has enormous latitude available to keep so-called "essential services" up and running. It's not so much a "shutdown" as it is a "slowdown," like something a major U.S. city might experience while negotiating with public employee unions. Closing national monuments may put a dramatic face on things, but otherwise everything else will continue to go on much as it did before the fiscal year ended at midnight on September 30.

The Mississippi veterans are breaking the rules by entering the memorial, but so what? It is not as though park service employees are needed to show them around. As young men, really little more than boys, they managed to get off the beaches at Normandy, defend the airstrip at Guadalcanal and take Rome without help from the park service. They can manage to get around the memorial, even those that are in wheelchairs or are otherwise hampered by injury or age.

What is fascinating about the story, in a sense liberating, is the way in which it represents the triumph of common sense over political posturing. It is a lesson the politicians would do well to absorb.

The American people are losing patience with the dysfunction in Washington. The bickering that has yet to produce solutions to the debt crisis, the overspending or the disaster that is Obamacare has grown tiresome. The Republicans, while holding firm to principle, have offered compromise, passing four different continuing resolutions through the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democrats under Sen. Harry Reid have said "no" to them all, backed up by a president for whom "it's my way or the highway" must be an unofficial slogan.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

His continued intransigence, while welcomed by his supporters, will become an increasing irritant to those who are not his fans. He may have won re-election in 2012 with a solid majority, but it should not be forgotten that there were 9 million fewer votes cast for president in that contest than in the one that brought him into office four years before.

Obama is partisan, not popular. His job approval numbers, while still strong, are softening. The country has almost never been behind him as far as the "right track, wrong direction" question goes. The longer he holds out, the more likely he is to accrue blame for what is and what is not going on in Washington, at which point he will begin searching for a deal. As he has shown many times before, he tends to speak loudly but carries a small stick.

There is however another lesson the American people would do well to note. If a "government shutdown" actually paralyzes the nation, as far too many commentators infer it might, then it is clearly time to take a good, hard look at the size and scope of government. If the government is that big, is involved in that much of what is supposed to be a free society, then it is too big – and needs to be made smaller. Ronald Reagan explained this brilliantly during his long political career and governed from that platform while president. The next Republican who wants to be president would do well to take that page from Reagan's playbook and commit it to memory, tailored for our current era.

  • Read Eric Schnurer: Obama Must Look Beyond the Government Shutdown and Budget Fights
  • Read Jamal Simmons: John Boehner Should Make a Deal With Democrats to End Shutdown
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