I have a picture of my father in front of the White House. It was taken during his honeymoon in 1954. He’s standing on a driveway, right up by the door. I dare say, he does look dapper. Had President Ike popped his head out the door, he might have invited Dad in for a policy discussion.
Point is, Mom and Dad signed up with a tour, got a good look at the place (with little rigmarole), snapped some photos and moved on.
By the time I first made it to Washington in 2002, things had changed — after 9 / 11, obviously, although even before that. Following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, vehicles were banned from two blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. “We’ve surrendered to fear,” Minnesota’s U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, who opposed the restriction, wrote at the time.
Even so, fear hadn’t turned ugly, yet. During my visit, I circumnavigated the perimeter. One couldn’t get very close on the south, east or west, though the view from the north, along Pennsylvania, was decent. One just had to peer through an attractive iron fence.
Until recently, that was sufficient. But then came the fence-jumping incident of Sept. 19, which isn’t an entirely unusual occurrence, but this time the dude made it inside — with a knife in his possession.
Now we’re seeing lots of attention to this and other breaches. The scrutiny includes the House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday at which Secret Service Director Julia Pierson was grilled. Meanwhile, outside the White House, concrete barricades and yellow police notices have been set up to put distance between the public and the fence. Maybe there’ll be new checkpoints, or maybe that stretch of Pennsylvania will be closed entirely.
Any of which would be a shame, although probably inevitable, so here’s a wish: Whatever is done should be beautiful, or at least blend in. That’s rarely been the case with the new impediments we’ve seen so far in this, our era of unending risk.