–Headline, Washington Post editorial, 3/14/13

According to presidential aides, the decision to shut down visitor and student tours of the White House because of the sequester was made by the Secret Service. Along with “I did not have sex with that woman,” this stands as one of the most disingenuous statements coming out of a president’s office since Richard Nixon was in full cry.

To believe this line, we have to visualize the head of Barack Obama’s protective detail entering the Oval Office to announce, “We’re eliminating White House tours until further notice,” the President looking up to say, “Oh? Sorry to hear that.”

Somehow I don’t think that’s the way it came about. More likely, at a morning session of the Obama staff gathered to consider how best to embarrass Republicans for bringing on the sequester, one of Obama’s prime Spin Doctors, in balloon-floating mode….but let’s listen in on the colloquy:

SPIN DOCTOR: We could close down the Washington Monument.
CHIEF OF STAFF: It’s already closed down for repairs.
SPIN DOCTOR: What about cutting off Saturday mail?
CHIEF OF STAFF: So what? Who’ll miss it?

Long pause. Then….

SPIN DOCTOR: What say we cut off White House tours?
CHIEF OF STAFF: What’s that got to do with saving money? People come in, move out, no charge.
SPIN DOCTOR: But doesn’t the Secret Service have to –
CHIEF OF STAFF: Screen them. Right. Great idea.

So it was, by my way of thinking, that the Secret Service, once the most unpolitical agency of the government, was brought in to flack for the White House, its spokesman explaining that by eliminating White House tours, they’ll save up to $2 million between now and September, the remainder of the fiscal year.

Two million dollars. Let’s see. That’s about what the President’s new political PAC picks up with a five- – no, make that two-minute phone call. But that’s another issue for another day.

For now, let’s leave it at this: If you’ve lived in Washington as many years as I have, the White House is a familiar part of the landscape. But for millions of Americans, most especially young people who come to their nation’s capital to touch history, a visit to the home where Madison, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan lived is an unforgettable experience.

For the current resident, who once spoke of “empathy” as being a key part of leadership, to shut down White House tours as a political ploy isn’t, as some would say, disappointing. No. A more appropriate word is revealing.

Sound bite to remember

It’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction.

–David Mamet, dialogue from “State and Main”