In most cities where they had been camping, the "Occupy" people have drifted away, no longer welcome to create tent cities -- even in New York, where it all started, or in Oakland, where well-organized anarchists (not an oxymoron in this case) led militant assaults on the port. The one big exception is Washington, D.C., where assorted leftists, layabouts, and Generation Y'ers (as is Y work? and Y take responsibility for my actions?) have been allowed to live non-stop in downtown's McPherson Square for three months.
Until the "Occupy" people came along, the square was dominated by Civil War General James McPherson's equestrian statue (and his ever-present pigeons). It has long been a popular pedestrian shortcut from "I" to "K" Street and its benches were frequently used on warm days for resting or reading.
Washington's mayor says his public health inspectors have reported the tent camp is infested with rats and has the potential for communicable diseases, hypothermia, and food-born ailments. So why hasn't he shut down the camp? It is the one city in the land where the city government does not control the situation. The National Park Service overseas McPherson Square. The NPS has been oh, so tolerant of the campers despite the fact there is a clear federal regulation prohibiting sleeping in such public places.
To justify their inaction, National Park officials claim that the camp is a "round-the-clock demonstration vigil" and the tents are "temporary structures" and thus elements of free speech.
Yes, but the NPS regulation say that "temporary structures" may not be used for sleeping (the Supreme Court in 1984 ruled that a regulation preventing sleeping in a public park did not violate the First Amendment).
Mayor Vincent Gray has written to the NPS to alleviate the health hazard by clearing the park. (Neighboring stores, restaurants, and many citizens have been complaining.) The NPS hasn't yet replied, though its spokesperson says it is "reviewing" the matter.
The ever-cautious National Park Service must begin the review by finding an employee who knows how to read. Then he or she must read the regulation, digest its significance, then discuss it with superiors. Who would they be? The Superintendent of the NPS reports to the Secretary of the Interior. The Secretary of the Interior reports to, now let's see -- why, it's the President of the United States!
Early in the New York "Occupy" effort, Mr. Obama had kind words for the Occupiers. He shrewdly deduced that even if there weren't many voters among the noisy campers many other left-liberal types would sympathize with them and Obama's quasi-endorsement would help him sharpen his class warfare campaign message. Day after day the campers obliged. Finally, the stench, noise, public defecation, drug-dealing, rape, and assault were too much, and police moved in and cleared out the camp. Other cities followed suit, but not Washington.
The volume of criticism in Washington is growing daily. Of course the White House is a bystander, as one of its spokesmen recently claimed, with a straight face, that "operational decisions have been and continue to be made" by Interior and NPS officials.
Another "of course" is that this violation of a federal regulation and the resulting public health and public nuisance would not have been tolerated more than briefly unless tacit approval of a hands-off approach had not been made by the White House. Up until now, at least, it has served the Obama campaign's political purposes.
Just Tuesday this week, the "Occupy" people obtained a permit for an anti-Congress rally of 10,000 people on west side of the U.S. Capitol. Only a few hundred showed up to wave anti-capitalist signs and shout slogans.
Congress is not idle in all this. The indefatigable Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has called a hearing for next Tuesday to determine who is responsible for the decision to allow the "Occupy" people to camp indefinitely in McPherson Square. The double-talk from NPS officials and other administration operatives should be entertaining, if not satisfying.