“Americans frequently disagree—often vehemently—about the role of the federal government in issues like the economy, health care, and education,” a report on the latter survey said. “But when it comes to national parks, agreement is nearly unanimous: 95 percent of voters agree that protecting and supporting [them] is an appropriate role for the federal government.”
A president who truly cared about the park system and its stewards would be very leery of tampering with such attitudes. We live in an era not just of political polarization, but also a kind of cultural self-segregation that has resulted in churches, neighborhoods, restaurants, radio and television programming that identify as either Republican or Democrat.
Obama burst on the national scene as a public servant who understood the limitations of such self-segregation and of a political class that accepted it. As president, however, first to win re-election and then, this month, to prevail in his game of chicken with congressional Republicans over the budget, Obama has risked the residual goodwill of the government’s most beloved institution. Smokey the Bear gave way to smug park police officers, harassing park rangers, and obtuse park service political appointees who took marching orders from the White House.
They capriciously barricaded open-air monuments that were never closed, erected concrete barriers to public parking lots, ticketed transgressors, and used dubious legal authority to abrogate the leases to park service concessionaires—including restaurants (such as San Francisco’s Cliff House) that no one even knew were on federal land.
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