I took my favorite urban walk today, perhaps for the last time. Itâ€™s in the nationâ€™s capital city, and I doubt Iâ€™ll have many more chances to get here in the years ahead. Usually I take the walk in the morning so I can watch the sun rise from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but tomorrow’s weather forecast calls for freezing rain.
After my all-day meeting, I hopped on the Metro. Ten bucks got me from Maryland to the Capitol Mall and back, with a couple stops along the way. What a deal. If only weâ€™d invested in decent public transportation throughout the country long ago.
My walk started at the Smithsonian Metro station, from which I headed west. The view for the first hundred yards was all rush-hour traffic and jets landing at Washington National airport, but then I began to encounter snapshot-obsessed tourists as I wandered past the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, and the reflecting pool. I weaved carefully through abundant piles of shit along the reflecting pool, some of which were nearly as large as the Canada geese who deposited them. I scrambled up the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial to catch the dayâ€™s last light on the Capitol.
Informative, irrelevant aside: Properties managed by the National Park Service include parks, monuments, and memorials. Whatâ€™s the difference?
Parks require an act of Congress, whereas monuments can be designated by the executive branch. So the national park near Tucson was Saguaro National Monument for many years (via presidential proclamation) before Congress was sufficiently inspired to declare it a national park: Saguaro National Park. Memorials are created to honor the dead, whereas monuments honor the living. The Washington Monument was dreamed up before George died, so itâ€™s a monument. Honest Abe didnâ€™t merit a monument until he died, so we have the Lincoln Memorial.
Back to the route: the FDR Memorial, my favorite monument or memorial in Washington, D.C. Itâ€™s a beautiful, simple memorial, so far off the beaten path I saw only six other people there. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an inspiration.
We can find fault, of course. FDR provoked Japan into attacking us at Pearl Harbor so we could pummel them into submission and therefore guarantee our oil supply. Also, the war was correctly foreseen as a solution to the Great Depression. Never mind the suffering of individuals: The Empire was cured.
But FDR did a lot of good along the way. He helped set the highest bracket of the income tax at 80% so we could pay our way out of the Great Depression. He recognized that most rich people make their money the old-fashioned way: they inherit it. If only the current cabal of politicians believed in taxes, weâ€™d be in a lot better financial shape than we are. And FDRâ€™s soaring rhetoric was inspired and inspiring. Consider these quotations, inscribed in giant blocks of granite at the FDR Memorial:
“Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.” [Todayâ€™s response: Nature? Whatâ€™s that?]
“In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice, the path of faith, the path of hope and the path of love toward our fellow men.” [Todayâ€™s path: hatred.]
“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” [Can you imagine?]
“We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all our citizens, whatever their background.” [Civil rights? What are you, a communist? We must kill all the terrorists before they kill us.]
“We must be the great arsenal of Democracy.” [Democracy. Nuclear weapons. Whatever.]
“They (who) seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order.” [Fascism is old, but it is order.]
For the first time ever, I did not cry upon visiting the FDR Memorial. I guess Iâ€™ve become jaded beyond tears.
I cruised past the tidal basin and the Jefferson Memorial, and then along the noisy, traffic-filled street adjacent to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. SUVs carrying lone drivers zipped past the new plastic banner announcing new five-dollar bills.
That pretty much says it all. The government uses expensive oil to print an advertisement for cheap money.
I found myself back at the Smithsonian Metro station ninety minutes after I started my trek, the incessant roar of jets landing at National airport providing a stark reminder of the dark days ahead. The jets, the cars, and the banner combine to reflect the governmentâ€™s unwillingness to sacrifice economic growth in the name of survival, or even moderation, as we ride the high tide of fossil fuels all the way beyond the safety of the water and onto the rocky shoals. I shivered, but it was probably just a response to the sub-freezing temperature.