The commander in chief and Harry Reid, his faithful dog robber in the U.S. Senate, have assigned the rangers of the National Park Service the most dangerous mission of the government shutdown. They're already up for medals.
Barack Obama will invite them to the Rose Garden any day now, or if not the Rose Garden, to the back nine at Congressional Country Club. Ribbons and decorations are waiting.
The rangers are following the example of Darby's Rangers, who were heroes of the Italian campaign in World War II. They were faithful, resourceful and as tough as hickory. Just like their namesake, William O. Darby, the original ranger, who was killed two days before the Germans surrendered Italy. It took the direct hit of an artillery shell to get him.
A chest full of medals, including the Silver Star, accompanied his remains back to Arkansas, and the Army Rangers are his legacy today. Darby won the Distinguished Service Cross at Arzew in North Africa in 1942 for striking "with complete surprise at dawn in the rear of a strongly fortified enemy position capturing prisoners and destroying a battery of self-propelled artillery."
Inspired by such heroics, the rangers of the National Park Service struck in similar dramatic fashion at the Battle of the Mall, when, in the face of a determined assault by 80-year-olds trained in World War II, the Park Service rangers, with total disregard of their own safety, held off a determined mechanized cavalry charge against a solid phalanx of orange traffic cones and yellow 'Do Not Cross' tape blocking access to the World War II Memorial. Before retreating, park rangers stopped the advance of a squadron of wheelchairs and the famous walker brigade, attacking in company strength supported by troops advancing on walking canes armed with oxygen canisters, bearing down on their forward positions.
This was Medal of Honor stuff, as measured by this White House. Vice President Joe Biden himself cited one ranger the next day for duty above and beyond the call of duty. It was a big week for ranger heroics in other places. On the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the rangers, in disregard of their own safety, blocked access to the parking lot of a privately owned inn, whose owner, in wanton defiance of law, order and public decency, vowed to keep his inn open for business.
More than a thousand miles to the south, the Park Service dispatched a combat flotilla to close Florida Bay to fishing traffic, 1,800 square miles of open sea between the southern tip of the Florida mainland and the Florida Keys. No more fishing in the sea until President Obama makes the House capitulate. Not since King Canute ordered the waves to cease and desist breaking on his land 11 centuries ago has a commander in chief ordered the ocean to behave. Not even Bill Darby and his rangers would have attempted to enforce such an order.
The president, with the might of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps at his command, chose his shock troops well. "The National Park Service has a long history of dramatizing budget issues by inconveniencing the public," Gale A. Norton, who was the secretary of the interior and the boss of the National Park Service for President George W. Bush, told Andrew Stiles of National Review Online. "They often choose the most dramatic type of action in order to get their message across. It's something I had to guard against when I was secretary — not letting them play budget games."
Given the fact that they have closed so much and acted so broadly, she says of the current games in Washington, "I imagine that the decision was made at the highest levels of Park Service leadership, in co-operation with the White House."
No doubt. Some of the Park Service rangers, like the ranger who told me last week that "we've been told to make life as difficult for people as we can," are as disgusted as their neighbors. The rangers the public meets are invariably courteous, polite and eager to be helpful. They're not responsible for the misuse of the service. That decision is made in the Oval Office.
'We are winning," a senior administration official tells The Washington Examiner. "It doesn't really matter to us how long the shutdown lasts." For now, maybe. But if Washington teaches anyone anything, it's that nothing recedes like success.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.