Diana West

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A question Americans should answer for themselves is the one I am thinking through while standing at the National World War II Memorial on the Washington Mall this week. What kind of president doesn't do everything he can to ensure that the elderly American men in wheelchairs I see before me don't have access to "their" memorial -- even during a government shutdown?

And when I say "their" memorial, I am not only referring to their World War II veteran status. This memorial cost $182 million to build; $197 million was raised privately (the extra money remains in a memorial fund). This non-government money came not only from corporations and wealthy individuals, but also from a long list of veterans groups. Naturally, hefty donations came from the big national organizations, such as Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans. On the memorial website, however, you will also find listed scores of smaller donors, including the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, Anzio Beachhead Veterans, U.S. Submarine Veterans of WWII, WWII Glider Pilots Association, and many more.

So, again, what kind of commander-in-chief permits government barricades to go up around the privately funded World War II Memorial, even as he is informed that long-scheduled and privately funded Honor Flights of these aged veterans are arriving to visit their memorial? (Thanks not to the president, but to the onsite intervention of Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (TX), Bill Huizenga (MI), Michele Bachmann (MN), Steve King (IA), Sen. Roger Wicker (MI) and others, these visits have been going on as planned.)

This is no idle question to contemplate in the midst of the impasse between Democrats and Republicans in Washington. In some ways, it goes to the symbolic heart of the matter.

The World War II Memorial, to my eye, is no beauty. It is a stone plaza, almost a giant sidewalk (and thus wheelchair-accessible) that is open to sun and sky and visitors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To "shut" this open plaza for the first time, National Park Service employees actually had to assemble barricades (the ones that look like bike racks) and yellow police tape to block access around it. "What are they going to do next?" asked Rep. Gohmert. "Hang a drapery over Mount Rushmore?"

Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).