Mr. President: it's time to move

A man climbed over a fence and the Secret Service caught him and no actual harm came to anyone and that man will now go to jail for a very long time. But, because of this and because of the 'never can be too safe' zeigeist, the Secret Service is considering a plan to set up security checkpoints blocks from the White House to ensure that tourists and visitors and whoever else might come close enough to eventually jump over a fence doesn't have any weapons or explosives. It it unclear whether the Secret Service will set up a rock wall to test the climbing and scampering abilities of those who wish to enter or whether that assessment will be done merely through visual means. I have, almost daily, for the past few years ridden my bicycle through the White House grounds (the 15th Street cycletrack actually directs its users along Pennsylvania Avenue and past Lafayette Park), and almost weekly, on Fridays, ridden my bike in front of the White House to get to Friday Coffee Club at 17th and G. It's a rather neat experience riding by early in the morning when there aren't too many tourists about and I'd be lying if I told you I haven't ever stopped on occasion to take a glamour shot of my bicycle leaned against the fence, White House in the background, in a sort of triumphal 'isn't it so cool I get to ride my bike in Washington, DC?' self-aggrandizing-by-association sort of way. There are many more people than me who use this bike route with as much or more frequency than I do and I think we'd all miss it were we diverted. I can't speak for other members of #bikeDC, but I probably wouldn't want to have my panniers searched daily by the Secret Service because it would be inconvenient and slowing and I'd also worry that they'd cast judgment on my lunch. "Funyuns again? Seriously?" There'd be other ways to get around the area, but not too many good ones, but life would go on and bicyclists, who for the most part are nearly always asked to make compromises to their preferred route in the name of their own safety, would now be asked to make compromises to their route in the name of someone else's safety, namely that of the President of the United States of America.

But I'm not sure how fair this is and I think it's time to really consider whether the current location of the Executive Mansion is one that's conducive to a world in which the threats to it are so multifarious and the fence climbing abilities of men far exceed what they once were, thanks to modern fence climbing techniques and the widespread diffusion of superior fence climbing technology. In short, it's time for the President to move.

While the President has historically resided in and worked from the White House, we live in uncertain times and traditional approaches are no longer appropriate to modern threats. The urban setting of the White House keeps the President far too close to far too many people about whom we know far too little. Are they spry? Do they have mad hops? What of their wrist strength and ability to hoist their legs over wrought-iron? We simply don't know. In addition, the White House is a tantalizing target for those who have evil intentions and the potential collateral damage to civilians is great. Rather than make the White House a fortress and impose more invasive security measures farther and farther away from its entrance, the President can make himself, his family, his key government officials and all of us safer by decamping to a more secure location.

This secure location can be built somewhere much safer. Maybe inside of a mountain or in the middle of a desert surrounded by rattlesnakes. It's been nice having the President in Washington DC, but mordern technologies obviate the need for him to be here. Surely he has Skype. It's not like it's olden times and he's parking his horse outside the Capitol for the State of the Union. Physical proximity is wholly unnecessary. Nostalgia alone cannot be reason to justify staying put. It's not 1820 anymore. Times change and we need to change with them.

But what of the building itself? I say we make it a museum. We can keep whatever fancy stuff the President doesn't want in the super-secure White House 2.0 and open it to tourists with the same level of perfunctory bag checks as at any Smithsonian branch. I doubt that visitors would mind that the President technically no longer lives there. I mean, it's not like they're bumping it him on the tour. They're there to see the historic building where a bunch of things from history related to liberty and democracy and freedom happened but can no longer happen because it's not safe for anyone for those things to keep happening there. It'll be like going to Hearst Castle or Newport, but with a more patriotic flair. Heck, you could still keep it really nice and if the President wanted to hold a State Dinner or something, he could use it for the night (they could probably keep some of the fancy china there so they don't need to schlep it back and forth from White House 2.0. I'd hate to see it break in transport and the budgetary implications of spending all that money on bubble-wrap would not be insignificant).

While it would be expensive to build White House 2.0 (hollowing out mountains isn't cheap, to say nothing of the escalating costs of rattlesnakes), we can put no price on safety. So long as the President continues to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it will remain fraught, both for him and for us. If the post-9/11 experience has taught Washington, DC anything, it's that the needs of the modern security state are incompatible with the needs of good urbanism and and open and free society. The residents of and visitors to the District of Columbia have, out of a commitment to tradition and also because they've to this point had no say in the matter, continued to abide by the government's attempts at the former while allowing the latter to continue to erode. Rather than one more compromise, one more checkpoint, one more metal detector, one more body scanner in a city that has been asked to function around it, the President needs to do the unselfish thing and move away. We'd miss you, but it'd be for the best.

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