Washington Monument Syndrome

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The Washington Monument syndrome, also known as the Mount Rushmore Syndrome,[1] or the firemen first principle,[2][3] is a term used to accuse government agencies in the United States of cutting the most visible or appreciated service provided by the government when faced with budget cuts. It has been used to refer to cuts in popular services such as national parks and libraries[1]or to valued public employees such as teachers and firefighters.[2] Allegedly, this is done to gain support for the restoration of budgets that lawmakers would normally be against. According to the conservative editorial magazine National Review, the name derives from the alleged bureaucratic habit of saying that budget cuts would lead to the closure of a beloved service, such as the Washington Monument.[4] In 2008, National Review compared the tactic to hostage-taking and blackmail.[5]

Although intended to highlight the government's value to voters, it can also be aimed at lawmakers themselves. Faced with budget cuts in the 1970s, Amtrak announced plans to cease train routes in the home districts of several members of Congress.[2]

The term was first used after George Hartzog, the seventh director of the National Park Service, closed popular national parks such as the Washington Monument and Grand Canyon National Park for two days a week in 1969. In response to complaints, Congress eventually restored the funding and Hartzog resigned.[6]

2013 government shutdown[edit]

The 2013 government shutdown has seen an extension of Washington Monument Syndrome to the fencing-off of monuments that are open all year and normally do not require staffing, for instance the National World War II Memorial. Further extensions of this political tactic include the forced shutdown of private businesses operating as parks and campgrounds on federal lands without any federal funding, in violation of the terms of their leases and concessions.[7] The closure prompted daily civil-disobedience actions at the World War II Memorial by the non-profit organization, Honor Flight Network, which is continuing its normal daily practice of bringing old and dying veterans to visit the war memorial. The Park Service blocked viewing but allowed the veterans' visits as a form of First Amendment expression.

Ridicule of the tactic has entered into popular culture. When Mount Rushmore overlooks (small, unstaffed road turnoffs) were closed by the Park Service, digital protests and jokes included photoshopped helicopters holding a sheet over the exhibit. Enough people were fooled by these jokes that the website Snopes added an entry to debunk them as merely photoshopped photos. [8]


  1. ^ a b Ferrell, David (30 April 2008). "Library Book Liberation Front: Don't Tax Library Books". LA Weekly. Retrieved 9 May 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c Peters, Charles (March 1976). "The Firemen First Principle". Washington Monthly. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  3. ^ Fallows, James (18 February 2013). "The Nightmare of Sequestration Hits Home". The Atlantic. Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  4. ^ Gardner, John S. (12 April 2006). "Condomania". National Review. Retrieved 9 May 2008. 
  5. ^ Cox, Wendell (25 June 2002). "Blackmail Strategy". National Review. Retrieved 9 May 2008. 
  6. ^ Kennedy, Shirley Duglin (2009-04-01). "The Washington Monument Syndrome". Information Today. Archived from the original on 2011-07-13. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  7. ^ http://pjmedia.com/tatler/2013/10/02/shutdown-white-house-ordering-privately-run-privately-funded-parks-to-close/
  8. ^ http://www.snopes.com/photos/politics/rushmore.asp