White House Wrong to Cancel Holiday Tours

Posted: Nov 27, 2001 12:00 AM
We have been all too keenly aware that there will be alterations to our way of life, and as every day passes, we see the tangible results of those changes. Though at first blush it may not seem like a tremendous sacrifice, the White House has canceled all holiday tours of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for the first time since the end of World War II. People are no doubt willing to sacrifice for the sake of security, but we should be vigilant to make sure we are not going too far. The best thumb in the terrorists' eye is to carry on with as much regularity as possible, while still safeguarding ourselves and our institutions. In closing the White House to the public, President Bush missed a golden opportunity to highlight our defiance and determination. What characteristics in perilous times make great leaders great? Courage, strength, perseverance, and an overriding faith in the justness of the cause and the inevitability of the outcome. Like FDR and Winston Churchill, Bush has these qualities and has contributed to the bustling confidence and pride in America. But he's misguided in canceling the holiday tours. Though Bush rightly has told the nation to return to "normalcy" and that "we are open for business," his action here belies his expressed sentiments. As anyone who has flown since September 11th can attest, we are living in a vastly different world. And in airports, the heightened security makes sense-a lot of sense. But many of the protective actions taken or contemplated would do little more than serve as a tonic for our fears. We need to carefully weigh and balance each new step we take, because adding security measures for the mere sake of having them is not just silly, it's destructive. In this war on terrorism, we are fighting not just for our principles, but our very way of life. As trivial as it sounds, part of the uniquely American lifestyle is the freedom we enjoy in public places, such as the ability to see all aspects of our government close at hand. To curtail this freedom needlessly is harmful to our spirits and will invariably chip away at the unyielding optimism we need to prevail. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich gave a recent speech in which he stated, "the security people have for a decade wanted to make the (U.S.) Capitol a fortress." Such measures were blocked because Congress realized the devastating symbolic impact of ensconcing the seat of our national government. Critics would argue that the times dictate the end of our unparalleled openness. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we need most now is bold leadership setting the example for returning to our everyday lives, as best we can in the new reality. Which brings us back to the holiday tours of the White House. In every year since the end of the Second World War, anyone willing to weather sometimes blistering cold nights was guaranteed the opportunity to view the White House decked out in its wonderful seasonal splendor. As with all security measures, we need to ask: is this truly necessary? Depends on whom you ask. The Secret Service, which likely won't be satisfied until Bush is the President in the plastic bubble, is undoubtedly behind the canceled tours and must feel the move is imperative. But one has to wonder that with all the high-tech gadgets at their disposal, how could the White House not be kept safe? After all, if the most highly trained bodyguards in the world can't safeguard the President's home and office, how are any of us supposed to feel terribly protected? On September 11th, Bush overruled the Secret Service when they wanted to keep the President away from Washington. He should do so again with the holiday tours of the White House to show that we are not afraid.