Here's how Congress could save $15 million to $50 million, the estimated cost of erecting a security fence around the U.S. Capitol complex: Don't build it.
Security consultants have recommended a fence, and the chief of the Capitol police force is in favor of it. As a belt-and-suspenders option, a fence makes a certain amount of sense, but the message it sends would be awful. It would be seen for what it is — a way to keep people out.
The Capitol is central to our democracy, both as a symbol and as the functional building where the work of democracy is done. A fence that is high enough and strong enough to provide any meaningful protection would also be grim enough to suggest a legislature afraid of its own citizens. Imagine the sound of those big gates clanging shut behind the backs of arriving lawmakers.
The 276 acres of the Capitol complex are already saturated with security — police patrols, guard posts, crash barriers, closed streets, metal detectors and explosives screeners. Visits to the Capitol itself, once open to everybody, are tightly controlled.
And at a cost of $450 million, Congress is building an underground visitors center and office space. All visitors and tourists will be screened there before being allowed into the Capitol.
Security precautions proceed apace in the midst of the beautiful Washington spring. The Washington Monument is closed while another underground center is being built to screen tourists who will then enter the monument through a tunnel. Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House is closed and barricaded for landscaping and the installation of additional security measures. Jersey barriers are ubiquitous.
Fencing off the Capitol comes dangerously close to the point where we start losing sight of exactly what it is we're protecting.