A single scene at the World War II Memorial in Washington last Sunday summed up the whole, disgraceful spectacle that is the Great Shutdown of 2013.
Instead of storming beaches, our veterans had to storm their own war memorial in order to get in. If that isn't enough to shame the feckless politicians in the nation's capital, nothing will. And it won't. Because they have no shame. They're politicians.
At this point our pols seem a lot more interested in blaming the opposition for this continuing outrage than doing anything meaningful to end it. Result: Between our two "great" national parties, there's more than enough blame to go around.
Last week the Veterans Administration shuttered its regional offices, furloughing some 7,000 employees nationally. After all, these regional offices only serve those Americans who donned the uniform of their country to fight for all of us. Their rights are expendable. They've been reduced to just chess pieces in this latest Washington game.
Don't worry. The word is that the Veterans Administration has a list of veterans who'll get first call on benefits if this shutdown lasts much longer, with groups like Medal of Honor recipients and former prisoners of war getting priority. And the White House has now announced that a private charity -- the Fisher House Foundation -- has volunteered to pay death benefits for the five American soldiers just killed in Afghanistan.
What a comfort. Our veterans risked everything for their country, and now the commander-in-chief of the country's armed forces seems to think that, in this emergency, their families ought to subsist on charity.
Can this be happening in America?
There are no words.
The feds are playing this game all over the map. One after the other national landmarks are closed off. That includes Ford's Theatre, too. No more tours or tour guides. Mr. Lincoln's ghost will have to wander its halls as unguarded as he was on that fateful night. But, what th' heck, wasn't he a Republican too? That'll teach him.
The Republican speaker of the House, rolling out his practiced outraged, claims "this is no damn game." But he's got to know just what kind of damn game is being played here. Since his party is losing the battle for public opinion, he doesn't like the way it's being played. It's a common enough reaction -- on the playground and in the nation's capital. (Any similarity between the two is no coincidence.)
It's not as if all these politicos were grownups. Like any brats, they know the psychological game being played here and how to play it. They're not fooling anybody except those partisans on both sides who want to be fooled. It's hard to believe these pols are fooling even themselves. Especially themselves. They know what they do. It's obvious. But in this game Rule No. 1 is never, never admit it.
As the government of the United States stays shut down, at least partially, like a motor stuttering into (non-)action, both parties are busy. No, not restarting the huge engine, but blaming the other for its failure.
There was once a governor, senator and de facto dictator of the Gret Stet of Louisiana named Huey Pierce Long who remains a legend within its borders and far beyond. He would have understood all too well what's going on here.
Some claim ol' Huey was the greatest governor in that state's history, and they may have a point -- to judge only by the university, hospital, state capitol, free textbooks and other monuments he left behind. Though they'd have a stronger case if they called him the worst governor that state ever had, given his strong-arm tactics and unbridled ambition. Not since Aaron Burr had America produced so brazen a would-be caudillo.
Like many if not most politicians, Huey P. Long, aka The Kingfish, always had his eye on the next step up. In his case, it was to become the first fascist president of the United States. He never made it to the White House, being shot down in the gleaming lobby of that soaring skyscraper of a state capitol he would leave behind as a memorial to himself. Sic transit gloria. Though some would say Sic semper tyrannis.
Whatever folks down Looziana way thought, and still think, of the legendary founder of the Long dynasty, Huey was surely the best storyteller who ever occupied the governor's office of that state. Or maybe any other. One of his many stories came back on watching our two political parties try to pin today's Great Government Shutdown on the other.
Huey Long was formally a U.S. senator but still effectively governor of Louisiana when he shared a country story about a drummer, which was then the term for a traveling salesman, as Huey well knew, having been one. The story was about a couple of patent medicines like the ones he used to peddle out in the country even before Hadacol made it big for a while.
These two medicines, he claimed, bore the grand names High Popalorum and Low Popahirum, depending on whether the bark they were made from was stripped from the top down or from the bottom up. Which was also the only difference, he claimed, between "the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership" in Congress.
Huey's story never seems to lose its relevance. It certainly sums up today's bipartisan stand-off in Washington. How little things have changed.