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It’s Good to be the President When You Visit Gettysburg National Military Park


Why is this man smiling? Eric Walker photo via Wikipedia.

In the classic movie History of the World Part II, actor/writer/producer Mel Brooks, playing French “Sun King” Louis XIV, looks toward the audience and remarks: “It’s Good to be the King.” Well, at least where visiting national parks is concerned, “It’s Good to be the President.”

Consider the special treatment that President George W. Bush received during his Friday, September 5, afternoon tour of Gettysburg National Military Park.

You and I will have to wait until the grand opening on September 26 before we can finally tour the park’s new Museum and Visitor Center. But you just don’t keep the prez waiting. He saw it all – the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama, the galleries and artifacts, the Gettysburg film, the whole shebang -- and he didn’t pay that noxious admission fee we’ve been threatened with, either.

You and I have to dig down deep for the $55 needed to hire a licensed guide for our battlefield tour. No such problem for the prez (who never carries cash or credit cards, anyway), because he was supplied with the no-charge guide services of Gabor Boritt, the Robert Fluhrer Professor of Civil War Studies and Director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College. (Professor Boritt, who has written 16 books about Lincoln and the Civil War, knows a thing or two about Gettysburg, you betcha; if he ever offered to give me a personal tour of Gettysburg, I’d ask him if it would be OK to bring along 500 of my closest friends.)

When you or I visit Gettysburg, nobody gives a damn. But when the prez visits, well, that’s a whole ‘nuther matter. The tour was a media event (which is why I know about it), the chairman of the Gettysburg Foundation was there, and the friends and associates invited to join the president welcomed the opportunity (or at least they said they did). Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was on hand, and so were some notable formers – including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former White House political adviser Karl Rove, and former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Karen Hughes.

The prez was invited to return later this month to attend the grand opening of the Museum and Visitor Center. He declined, of course. ‘Been there, done that.

It’s Good to be the President.


Well, I do think the President of the US goes wherever he wants, BUT there are several more interesting things about this, AND, see at the end my plea for understanding of how this looks to the Average Park Ranger, that all, except perhaps the Secret Service insiders should be able to understand:

1. The most interesting thing about this trip is that he did it at all, at a time when so many bad things are happening to America.

2. The most intriguing thing is that he brought Gonzales & Rove and Hughes with him. WHAT WERE THEY DOING WITH THE PRESIDENT IN THE FIRST PLACE? Certainly, not just getting together to see Gettysburg. Gettysburg, as our Secret Service family member knows, is a stones' throw from Camp David, where secure conferences with the President occur away from Washington distractions.

As everyone knows, Hughes seemed to be the one closest to Bush as Governor then as President most associated with the "compassionate conservative" persona, and more recently as an international ambassador to reverse Bush's low reputation in the world. A reputation caused by the unilateralism of Cheney and Rove. When Hughes quit the White House, Andy Card, chief of staff, committed truth when he blurted out that without Hughes in the White House no one would be able to control Rove. After a decent interval, Card, another centrist, got the boot.

More interesting is the presence of Gonzales and Rove, both of whom many in Congress believe would be guilty of prosecutable high crimes except for the fact that President Bush is blocking all White House testimony by the most extreme interpretation of executive powers ever launched, and there is no time left to pursue the case through the courts to force testimony. Why go through all this if Rove and Gonzales are not guilty?

Most Presidents would never be seen in public with such tainted cronies, even if they continued to rely on them secretly. This President is either deeply relying on them, or doesn't care anymore what decent opionion in America thinks, or is cooking up a defence-and-get-out-of-jail-free-card for Rove and Gonzales. This trip happened just before the new Atty General announced a report nailing major errors from Gonzales, and appointing a prosecutor to look into the case. I am imagining a pretty heavy-weight conversation at Camp David, using Gettysburg as a welcome break in the intensity, or more likely, a cover to divert attention from the main event. This way they get to say they all got together with the Education Secretary to get an educational experience.

Just as Cheney does not get an automatic pass from Bush anymore to do whatever he wants, the President would need Karen Hughes there to tell him how to reflect on whatever Rove and Gonzales are telling him about how to deal with the Justice Department's report and subsequent investigation.

Rove and Gonzales are no longer government employees, having resigned in disgrace, and Hughes having resigned with honor: presumably they don't get perked in theory. But in fact, you can bet the taxpayers paid for the entire trip because the point of the trip really was the conference at Camp David.

3. It is often hard for Rangers or the public to understand why their leaders should not see the same world the private citizen sees. You will remember the outrage that accompanied the failure of the first President Bush to identify a bar code or its purpose. However unrealistically, most of us are simple (in the best sense) and want their leaders to be like them. To understand them.

I was superintendent of a Park visited by a Secretary of the Interior, who presumably was in that state to look at oil and gas development prospects quite a few miles away. That Secretary brought a very young and attractive foster daughter/exchange student and a very angry wife. They brought no equipment or supplies. Essentially, it was a vacation, and park rangers ferried them all over the park, were required to show them how to wear the gear and try to teach them to fish and canoe and avoid disturbing wildlife. The wife spent a lot of time yelling at rangers about the inadequacies of the visitor center or park facilities, so much so that the Secretary several times had to interject himself to defend the rangers.

There was nearly a mutiny from the park staff. Finally late one night I met with the rangers to hear their grievances. After listening, all I could say was a) the Secretary of the Interior and other VIPs need to see government facilities to understand how they work and why they are important. Even if it seems like a taxpayer-subsidized vacation. and, b) you are professionals. It does not matter what they throw at you. You can handle it, and that is why you are park rangers. They only grudgingly understood point "a" but point "b" got through to them.

Along the same lines President Clinton used to fly his helicopter to Baltimore to see the Orioles play. He flew into Fort McHenry. It meant, on the spur of the moment, that that park was shut down, and visitors who may have traveled from Utah to see the birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner, and this unexcelled symbol of American steadfastness and duty, were turned away from the park. I wasn't working there, but knew many who did. The rangers hated it. They thought it indulgent. They thought American citizens should not have the wake of the President so toss American citizens around, as if he were the Queen of England.

My own thinking on this is, whether at Gettysburg or at Ft. McHenry, we must accomodate the President. BUT the elected officials should be sensitive to the feelings of average Americans, and take care to TRY to experience things, as much as possible, as normal people do. It couldn't hurt to pay the entrance fee, at the very least for Rove and Gonzales and Hughes.

Oh dear, I mentioned my husband working for the Secret Service and it suddenly all becomes "satire". I am die-hard nothing political. It's nothing for you to change to a "satire" intent after the fact but you clearly were extremely jealous of a President getting the VIP treatment even in your follow-ups. One word of advice, if you truly fancy yourself a satirist, don't quit your day job, you'll starve.

Sorry, but I have to agree with the other commenters who have pointed out that this post reads more like a political hack job than a satire... after all a satire is at least supposed to be a *little* funny....

But, let me try and tackle some of the underlying points of this post.

Should the President have been able to visit the new Gettysburg facilities before they opened to the Public? And should the President have been charged admission fees before his visit?

Well, it is worth pointing out that the President of the United States sits atop the organizational structure of the National Park Service. From Park Ranger to superintendent to Regional Office to NPS Director to Secretary of the Interior to President of the United States. So should the boss be charged to visit the Park? Should Robert Iger have to pay to get into Disney World?

Its also worth noting that since this was a media event, the Presidential visit also generates free publicity for the grand opening of the new Gettysburg facilities - which benefits the Park to a degree as well...

Maybe if it was Leonardo Di Caprio or some other getting this treatment this post would have rang truer...

The President IS the de facto emperor of the American Empire whether Bob chooses to snipe at his royal highness or not. The inability of the Congress to follow the Constitution and rein in the powers of the Executive, especially since WW2, has resulted in a fascist takeover by power hungry presidents who are totally in thrall to special interests such as the military industrial and high finance. Today's bailout of Fannie & Freddie for the benefit of the power elite, paid for by us the peon tax cattle, is the direct fruit of this top down form of corporatist national socialism.

The next time you see the motorcade sweeping past you in line at your favorite national park just swallow your pride, stick out your arm and give a hale and hearty SEIG HEIL!

"The judge, he holds a grudge
He´s gonna call on you
But he´s badly built
And he walks on stilts
Watch out he don´t fall on you."

-------Bob Dylan

Or ... admit it was political and snipe on. I'm all for sniping.

Happy hunting,

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

A president OF the people has no right to be treated like a king, even in a national park. Such treatment is un-American. Three cheers, Bob!

Bob, your practiced "reasonable reply" isn't fooling anyone. This WAS a rant, evinced by use of the vernacular "nuther" and your lines:

The prez was invited to return later this month to attend the grand opening of the Museum and Visitor Center. He declined, of course. ‘Been there, done that.'

The first poster had it right...for Pete's sake, quit the political sniping.

I worked at Sequoia during Bush II's visit in 2000. A wall was knocked out between two rooms at the lodge to make a bigger suite. A television (probably tuned to FOX News) and treadmill were added to the room. Bush climbed to the top of Moro Rock. When shaking the President's hand, Sequoia National Park's air quality monitor told him not to slack off on clean air regulations. His visit pretty much shut down big parts of the park. Bush was there promising billions for the national parks. Remember? That was before 9/11. Oh, if only politicians would stop using parks as political pawns.

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