- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

The House Progressive Caucus has laid out its agenda for this year, and at least one of its legislative proposals deserves co-sponsorship from every member of Congress.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a caucus member, is seeking support for her Open Society with Security Act, which would call on President Bush to establish a commission that ensures our freedoms and liberties wouldn't be trifled with in the name of homeland security. "Maintaining safety and security in an open, democratic society is too important to be left to security officials alone," she told editors and reporters of this newspaper. How right she is.

Consider, for a moment, how the Secret Service all but cowered before the "threat" of school children visiting the White House and the U.S. Capitol. Consider, as well, the permanent and costly closing of Pennsylvania Avenue. Shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing, the Secret Service convinced the Clinton administration to temporarily close parts of the street to automobile traffic, and, where several thousands commuters used to travel now stand ugly cement barricades around what has become a parking lot for the Secret Service. Soon thereafter, a group of so-called planners drummed up the idea of permanently banning traffic by "beautifying" that area as if Washington needs another park.

In the years since the Oklahoma tragedy, many persons and institutions, including this newspaper, have pleaded, in the name of an open society, for the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue. But it has been in vain. Indeed, the horrific events of September 11 led President Bush to pull a Bill Clinton on all of us he includes in his fiscal 2003 budget proposal a $1 million appropriation to improve traffic around the White House resulting from the permanent closure of Pennsylvania Avenue. The administration has caved to fears about what might happen.

To be sure, the average conservative might cringe at support for the House Progressive Caucus, which supports a 50 percent cut in defense spending. But this is no endorsement of the caucus' full agenda. This specific Norton proposal deserves co-sponsorship from every member of Congress because of the vital importance it represents.

Her legislation proposes a 21-member security commission of experts drawn from the broadest array of disciplines from law-enforcement and military experts to planners, business leaders and historians. "The only way to be sure we are not unnecessarily intruding on our open society traditions," she said, "is to get everybody at the table and let them thrash it out." While that would surely keep security concerns on the front burner, it also would force Mr. Bush's security men to accommodate indeed affirm what Mrs. Norton calls "the central American value of openness and access." And this means not just access to the White House and the U.S. Capitol, but to of all America's beloved parks, museums and memorials our symbols of liberty and democracy.


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