Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Capitol Idea

Lost in the publicity over Illinois politics, bailouts for banking and industry, and the preparations for the upcoming inauguration are a couple of items which I think are worthy of some considerations. The first to come to mind is the new visitor center in our nation’s capital, or more specifically, at our nation’s new Capitol Visitor Center.

In the early nineties, it was proposed that we create a welcome area adjacent to or underneath the existing building to receive the tens of thousands of visitors to the venerable building which in itself is ill prepared to host them. The original building was not intended as a museum but rather a work place for our elected representatives. After all, the building only had five restrooms. The suggested cost was a measly $71 million. The Republicans fought the proposal as wasteful and it was left to another day.

In 1998, you may recall a crazed gunman entered the building and killed two Capitol Police officers and the center was again suggested as a result of concern for increased security. This time it was approved for about $100 million. In the wake of cost overrides and unexpected additional features the cost rose to $265 million over the next two years. With anthrax attacks and other issues subsequent to 9/11, security concerns increased and the cost rose to $373.5 million.

The center opened finally on December 2 and the final bill—hold on to your hat--$621 million. That is nearly nine times as much as the original estimate in the nineties. The next time any politician mentions a number as the proposed costs of a vital program you might want to keep these relationships of estimates in mind. Personally, I labor long to pre-estimate the cost of a building project and they seldom come in within the budget. They are not subject to a 9X differential however. The 20% I add to cost projections for contingencies would be laughably unrealistic on Capitol Hill.

Were the cost overruns not enough, the displays and exhibits are rife with error and the usual attempts at political correctness. The chairman of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) said, “There’s a terrible movement to rewrite our history and obscure our faith.” He was, no doubt, in part reacting to false identification of the national motto as e pluribus unum instead of “In God We Trust” which was established by Congress in 1956. The tendency within the displayed materials to downplay the faith of the founders and be actively hostile to any expression of religion is prevalent.

The removal of expressions of faith is not limited to the CVC but also is an ongoing assault on monuments throughout the city. In typical fashion the new memorial to FDR omits any mention of God. On the even newer WWII memorial, a quote by Eisenhower is abbreviated just before his invocation of “the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” (From his remarks on the eve of D-Day.)

I suppose we shouldn’t carp about the cost of this boondoggle since it ensures that Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) will not have to endure the smell of the great unwashed who come to visit “their” building. Yes Senator, the building is not yours; it belongs to us, poor hygiene and all.

When Jim DeMint (R-SC) toured the hall, he complained; “There was an obvious absence of any accurate historical reference to our religious heritage.” He added, on the floor of the Senate: “In touring the CVC, I found the exhibits to be politically correct, left-leaning, and secular in nature.” On September 27th, he was quoted as saying; “There seems to be a trend to whitewashing God out of our history.

As one might expect, the halls are full of exhibits and tributes to a full range of diversified “American Heroes.” There are celebrations of race, gender, and the full mix of the American experience. Apparently it was felt that an exhibit about the longest serving woman in Congress was more important than God. Edith Norse Rogers' accomplishment was of course, important, but hardly as important as the Almighty. There is a display concerning the impeachment of Andrew Johnson but curiously, no similar display on the impeachment of Wm. Jefferson Clinton. Naturally, Earth Day, an ACTUP protest on AIDS funding and miscreants at the Pentagon during the Viet Nam War are there in huge color photos. Throwing a bone to the participants in the War in Viet Nam, they have shown a photo of a woman standing at a gravesite, captioned; “a nation continued to mourn its fallen soldiers of the Vietnam conflict. The war claimed over 58,000 casualties.” Closer inspection of the photo reveals that the veteran actually died in 1982, seven years after the end of hostilities. He had been a veteran of three wars. The 58,000 were not casualties; that figure numbered the dead in that struggle. The numbers of casualties were exponentially higher.

In a hall where the overall sense is denial of the Almighty, inaccuracy in simple reporting, and celebration of questionable heroes is the rule, might we evaluate the quality of the legislative bodies that call it home by those standards? Perhaps we got off easy. The apportioned cost when we pro-rate it to each citizen comes to a little over $2 apiece. Next time you are in DC, drop by and enjoy the air conditioned comfort, the 530 seat restaurant, the 26 restrooms and the two orientation theaters. Try not to concentrate too much on what you might have done with $621,000,000.00 to improve the lives of every day Americans.

In an article by John J. Miller, we find this wry comment; “Congress’s memorial to itself isn’t even good enough for government work.” John, I seriously doubt that anyone inside the beltway finds that phrase in common usage but you are absolutely right.

In His abiding love,

Cecil Moon

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