Oct. 4, 2013
One of our friends teaches at a government institution. When the sequester came, some of the professors and staff were furloughed. Our friend said he could work around the sequester because all of his classes are on one day. He could take his furlough day on another day of the week, he volunteered. He was told, in no uncertain terms, you will now rearrange your schedule to work through this. This has got to hurt. Cancel all your classes and take a furlough.
I’m reminded of the cynical view that H.L. Mencken took of democracy a hundred years ago. The man they called “The Sage of Baltimore” said democracy was the theory that the people should get what they want — and get it good and hard.
Such cynicism was clearly behind the decision to close down the National Mall at the time of the government shutdown. It is good to have knowledgeable guides from the Park Service to help interpret the monuments, to be sure, but many of us have led tours of the Mall ourselves and would be honored to pitch in. I know I will be happy to volunteer.
Closing the Mall was sparked by the same age-old tactic of entrenched bureaucrats called “Closing the Washington Monument.” That tactic says that whenever Congress fails to cough up as much dough as the bureaucrats want, they can respond by closing down the capital’s most popular tourist attraction. But now, of course, the Washington Monument is already closed. This is because of earthquake damage, not bureaucratic bloody-mindedness.
The White House, too, has been closed. President Obama’s administration made that decision for reasons that are hard to recall. We’re sure that his many guests and campaign donors will be able to access the historic halls of what Harry Truman called the People’s House.
My favorite tour guide for the National Mall was the man who starred in the first presidential inauguration to be held on the West Front of the Capitol. In Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Address, January 20, 1981, he pointed to the vast expanse and the impressive monuments laid out before him and showed the country and the world what being American means.
I’m told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on this day, and for that I’m deeply grateful. We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each Inaugural Day in future years it should be declared a day of prayer.
This is the first time in our history that this ceremony has been held, as you’ve been told, on this West Front of the Capitol. Standing here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this city’s special beauty and history. At the end of this open mall are those shrines to the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man, George Washington, father of our country. A man of humility who came to greatness reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side, the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence flames with his eloquence. And then, beyond the Reflecting Pool, the dignified columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln.
Hearing Washington thus described as a man of humility “who came to greatness reluctantly,” we are led to wonder how things have come to this sad day. We have been told that our current president is one who “hovers over the nations, like a sort of god.” (Newsweek editor Evan Thomas) He is, says presidential historian Michael Beschloss, the smartest man ever to occupy the White House. So how did we get in this mess?
With all the folly evident in Washington, D.C. these days, we can use some good news from George Washington. There’s at least one historic site is still open and welcoming Americans: George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon. This stately mansion is about twenty miles from downtown Washington and it’s one of the best investments you will ever make.
The estate is the property of The Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union. It’s been privately owned for its entire existence. Several years ago, a new $187 million Visitors Center was opened that houses theaters, exhibits, gift shops and dining. Most recently, Mount Vernonadded a new feature, the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. Now, scholars will be able to access old and new materials on the life and influence of George Washington. The George Washington Library cost $106 million — all privately funded. Another great feature is George Washington’s own handsome leather-bound copy of the Constitution with the Bill of Rights. In the margins of this 222-year old document you can see Washington’s neat, handwritten notes on the powers and the duties of the President. This volume cost $9.8 million at auction and was purchased for Mount Vernon, again using all private funds.
Another piece of good news from Washington is the forthcoming (Oct. 23-26) Hillsdale Hostel conference on “The Character and Statesmanship of George Washington.” With lectures, discussions, and presentations, Hillsdale College’s Alan J. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship will work to inform and inspire attendees about the life and work of our first president. I’m planning to attend this event and to report on it.
In 2009, The New Yorker published a most interesting cover portrait for President Obama’s First Inauguration.
It remains my favorite portrait of Barack Obama. It reminds us of the great promise and the greater responsibility that rests on the shoulders of every man who has stood in the place George Washington stood. It shows us how Washington was and remains the model for what a President of the United States should be. For liberals and conservatives, it’s a sobering thought.