David Hines
By David Hines
April 2, 2013

There's been a lot of Washington Monument Syndrome going around. Turned into an acronym it might just as well be "Weapons of Mass Scaremongering," or "Words of Maximum Silliness." The tactic is also known as the "firemen first principle." Cuts are threatened to those most popular services in order to keep funding the least popular and most despised.

The sequester was billed as a means to make spending cuts so unpalatable to politicians that they'd really get serious about fiscal matters. Now that it's crunch time, it's regarded as a means of making spending cuts so unpalatable to ordinary people that they'll accede to any draconian thing to avoid it. As with all politics, some are buying and some aren't.

Those currently employing WMS are apparently unaware of the history. It got the name in 1969, when a federal bureaucrat implemented the tactic. To protest proposed budget cuts, he closed popular sites a couple days a week. He accomplished the nearly impossible for a federal official without a sex scandal – he got himself fired. Public outrage could not be ignored. As Abe said, you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

It seems prudent to me to learn from the past, but in this as in other perceptions I seem to be in a very small minority. "It's 2013, and everybody knows..." is a typical rebuttal of history. How could I possibly gainsay that? Not only does it appeal to the lowest common denominator, it even has a number in it. Irrefutable!

With a deadline looming, many of the promoters of fear reversed their course. They started saying that their dire predictions were not quite so imminent after all. Perhaps they had developed a streak of kindness, and were attempting to shelter us from harsh reality. The most drastic proposals in Congress would indeed take us back to medieval times – that is, the budget of two years ago. Oh, the horror!

The Washington Monument and Mount Rushmore aren't all the bad stuff looming, either. We're told of possible flight delays due to lack of TSA gropers. This doesn't much scare people who can't afford to fly. Vacation plans involving national parks might have to be changed – not much of a concern to people without jobs from which to take a vacation. Lines at government offices might be longer – as if government customer service was ever stellar, with no competition to keep them on their toes. Fortunately, we can still afford to send ordnance to Syrian rebels and conduct new military operations in central Africa. But how can we possibly live without getting a pass to the Washington Monument?!

The Washington Monument, Dulles International Airport, and "customer" service in government offices are no doubt of great relevance to denizens of Mordor on the Potomac. Those concerns are reflected by the major news media, whose meal ticket is in talking to and about politicians. But many people outside the imperial demesne react with a shrug. They have more prosaic – and more fundamental – concerns. The WMS didn't work in 1969, and it's not doing all that much better today.

Yes, if the government doesn't take our money and spend it for us, we could not possibly find any use for it. It would merely sit there unspent, prolonging recession/depression. We are too vapid to figure out what to do with the ill-gotten gains of employment. So I hear from numerous talking heads. Since it's 2013 and everybody but me knows, it must certainly be true.

Despite the preternatural economic wisdom of those who can't (or maybe can – depends which day and who's talking) keep open the Washington Monument, though, I'd still rather spend it myself.

© David Hines


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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)


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