Wednesday, November 28, 2001

The White House is happy, the organizers of the annual Pageant of Peace are happy, and the public, including editors of this page, are half-smiling, too. That is because the U.S. Secret Service has reversed itself and lifted restrictions on public attendance at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. Both the ceremony and the Secret Service’s arbitrary actions are huge deals.
The Secret Service had given two thumbs down to a standing-room-only tree-lighting ceremony, a presidential tradition that was begun in 1923 by Calvin Coolidge and draws thousands of onlookers to the Ellipse. In addition, the compliant National Park Service cut off tickets on Oct. 9. The decision left more than a few Americans uttering bah, humbug and left President Bush looking like the wimp who stole Christmas.
Indeed, the very fact that the Secret Service had to reverse itself in the first place begs the essential question about who’s in charge. According to Brian Marr, a spokesman for the Secret Service, the reversal followed a re-evaluation of “intelligence,” but there are no guarantees. That is sort of like saying no new taxes, for now.
The White House, meanwhile, said it is “very pleased” about the decision a decision it should have made from the very beginning. This is especially true since school kids can no longer visit the White House and those wonderful Christmas decorations that first lady Laura Bush had considered for months will not be viewed by the public. After all, when Mr. Bush lights that 40-foot Colorado blue spruce next week, he will not only be upholding a 78-year-old American tradition. He will also be symbolically shining light along America’s road toward peace in these arduous times of war.

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