The National Park System has a budget of $2.6 billion, much of it raised by concession and attendance fees. Even if it were entirely taxpayer-funded it would represent only .00068 of every federal dollar in our $3.8 trillion budget. Nonetheless, hardball-playing White House strategists have made it the most conspicuous instrument of pain inflicted by the federal shutdown.
The Republican House has tried to fund the park system during the struggle over Obamacare funding, but without success. Even park funding offers by states have been rejected by the feds. Almost every day brings fresh examples of unnecessary annoyances and hardships visited on the public by the park service and its Interior Department superiors.
The purpose of these gratuitous crackdowns seems to be to provoke outrage against the House of Representatives. But might they not instead provoke well-justified resentment against political manipulation by the White House? That resentment will grow, it appears, when it turns out that that even within the Park Service the implementation of the shutdown gets exceptions based on partisan political clout.
Will someone please ask Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell, the former private executive from Seattle, why she is allowing her department’s most popular agency to play the shutdown goat? Surely the deployment of rangers as scolds and punishers — for the infraction of trying to use a park! — hurts the Park Service image. In its nearly 100 year existence, has the National Park System ever been exploited — day upon day — for such negative propaganda?
• A man was fined $100 by park rangers for jogging at Valley Forge park — because it is closed. If it is closed, who put the rangers there to catch the jogger, and if they are available for that function, why aren’t they available for keeping the park open?
• Everybody by now knows about the determined “Barrycades” that have been put up to keep the public from the World War II Memorial, the World War I Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial.
• Then there are the private inns whose access is along roads to National Parks that the rangers are trying to close off. If you can cause disruption to those people’s private budgets and the travel plans of their guests, maybe they will put pressure on those unreasonable Republicans in the House. Is that the idea?
• In Arizona the governor has offered to use state money to keep the Grand Canyon Park open. No way! If the people who had planned to see the Grand Canyon get away with visiting it, what are chances that they will make a stink to their Congressman about his intransigence. Is that the idea?
• At Yellowstone visitors were not allowed to leave their hotel or, when on their bus, to stop and take photos.
• Likewise, the venerable Mt. Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, the private philanthropy that preserves the home of George Washington and entertains the public was told to shut down because a few of its parking places are co-owned by the Park Service. The rangers actually put up barriers and signs to prevent access. Fortunately, when the ladies and their lawyers went toe-to-toe with Interior Department agents, the latter were forced to back down. But why would the government want to go of its way to inconvenience people like that? It’s a form of civil liberties violation — budgetary harassment.
• In Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has refused to close state parks that get partial funding from the federal government even though the Park Service told him to.
So the reason the National Parks — with their nearly insignificant budget, and a budget the Republicans in the House gladly will fund if they get the chance — is being employed as a political weapon because it is so visible.
The motivation is has become blatant; it’s not money, since it takes staff to keep people out of Parks facilities. It’s politics. While war veterans were pushed away from open-air monuments on the Mall in Washington, an official exception was made for a rally on behalf of illegal immigrants. Vets, No; illegal immigrants, Si.
It would be funny, except that the mainstream media are trying hard not to get the joke. Their credibility is also an Administration goat.