In Manhattan early this afternoon, I stopped by the big Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, and saw signs announcing it was closed for the day. Then I looked across the street and saw a massive number of police officers just milling about. Not doing anything, just standing around.
I crossed over and asked one of them what was up, and he told me they were mobilizing here so they could “secure the library” for President Obama’s visit this evening. I didn’t ask him how many officers would eventually be going into the library — that’s the sort of question that could get you arrested these days, and I had no way of proving I was a magazine editor and not a terrorist — but my best jellybeans-in-a-jar guess was that about 400 of them had already arrived.
When I got back to 42nd Street a few hours later– well, actually I didn’t: both vehicular and pedestrian traffic had been banned for about a two-block radius around the library. I can’t speak for the cross-streets north of 42nd Street, but 40th Street (and presumably 41st) had been emptied, looking weirdly post-Apocalyptic.
As empty as 40th Street was, 5th Avenue leading up to 40th was a disaster area: at 5:15 on a weekday afternoon, one of Manhattan’s major roads just came to a sudden stop.
And need we even discuss the traffic disruptions caused by the President getting to the library?
Was this library trip really necessary? Was President Obama speaking at the New York Public Library worth closing the library for the day, deploying thousands of policemen, devastating mid-town Manhattan, and disrupting traffic into the City?
(Obama’s New York Adventure also includes a visit to the United Nations which will also be highly disruptive, but at least is of legitimate importance — and it won’t inconvenience me personally)
And the larger question is, should life as we know it really come to an end every time a president feels like going someplace? I mean sure, we want to keep the guy safe — but come on, let him ride in a police car with the siren going, and be done with it. We don’t need to shut down all the surrounding streets for hours before his arrival.
Afraid of an ambush? In Manhattan, it’s the easiest thing in the world: find ten taxis with Israeli drivers, who between then will swear to eleven “best ways” of getting from Point A to Point B. Put the president in one of them, and a decoy chain-smoking black guy in the other nine. He might get where he’s going by way of Staten Island, but he’ll get there, and nobody will be able to anticipate his route.
I mean seriously, all due respect, but we have presidents here, not imperial sun gods. They shouldn’t get to shut down major cities on a whim or for the sake of their own convenience. They shouldn’t want to.
And by the way… maybe giving a talk in a huge, cavernous library with nooks and crannies and countless rows of shelves, which takes hundreds of police officers to secure, just isn’t a good idea for a sitting president.
None of this is unique to President Obama, of course: some years back, George H.W. Bush was traveling from New Jersey to Manhattan and the Imperial Motorcade couldn’t decide whether to take the New Jersey Turnpike or one of two other roads — so they decided what the hell, let’s close them all down for the afternoon.