President Obama and the Washington Monument Strategy

I have a question about the shutdown. This is real. I don’t know the answer.

By far, the most visible aspect of the shutdown has been the closure of national parks. Republicans have been making endless hay out of this, especially the highly telegenic barrier crashing of the WWII Memorial by elderly vets a couple of days ago.

But it’s not just Republicans. I’ve read a few more moderate voices claiming that this is just another example of the “Washington Monument strategy.” That is, the Obama administration is deliberately shutting down high-profile government operations as a way of making the public mad. In turn, they hope that anger will be directed at Republicans who are making absurd demands as the price of re-opening the government.

During the sequester fight, this argument seemed at least plausible. Agencies didn’t have a lot of discretion when the sequester cut their budgets, but they did have some discretion. Did Obama really have to cancel White House tours? Or did he do it because it was something that people would notice and yell at their congressional representatives about? It was unclear. It’s certainly possible that there was enough discretion in the law to avoid this if anyone had wanted to.

But this time around, none of that is true. By law, the government is shut down. By law, only essential functions are allowed to continue operating. And by law, national parks aren’t essential functions. They aren’t being closed as part of a media strategy, they’re being closed because there’s no choice. Right? Or is there more to this?