Paul Jacob

Most Americans are aware, on some level, of the Firemen First Principle.

Politicians face a shortfall in the budget, and wish to raise taxes, or debt, to cover it, but also must face the wrath of the public. So they pretend to bite the bullet, strategically placing onto the chopping block those parts of the government that the people like best.

This “demonstrates” the “need” to raise taxes, increase debt, or otherwise do things voters would rather not do.

Firemen go first onto the list, because everyone likes firemen. They risk their lives and help us when we are truly helpless.

Police often get put on this list, for they, too, seem necessary to most of us.

And schoolteachers sometimes get dragged into this calculus of vindictive prioritization. People don’t like it when their children suffer at school, and fewer teachers seems to translate into increased suffering.

So the tactic often works. That is, revenue gets raised, come hell or high water.

But of course, there’s a lot more to government than just the most necessary, or most desired, services. There are a lot of less essential personnel who could be laid off when budgets go cattywampus.

As we learn every decade or so, when a government shutdown occurs over a budgetary stalemate.

This time, the partial shutdown in government services has been directed by Congress, keeping Social Security checks flowing, doctors paid via Medicare, military on the march, etc. etc., the idea being: not to disturb ordinary Americans very much. Amusingly, putting the bulk of the EPA on furlough turned out not to bother many people at all, and the wry wisdom Americans extract from this — that, well, if we don’t notice government services when they are gone, do we really need them at all? — offends those folks who run the government. So they turn to propaganda by the deed: They kill off parks.

Well, they close them.

As the week began, the news was about the World War II Memorial closure. I wrote about this in “The Mysterious Barricades,” about how the National Park Service put up barricades on the monument, and, before you could say “François Couperin,” how a platoon of geriatric soldiers breached the barricades and paid their respects to their fallen comrades, scores of years dead.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.