Commentary Magazine


Topic: Secret Service

Liberal Prejudices and the Secret Service Fiasco

When the director of the Secret Service was hauled before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Democrats and Republicans were united by a sense of outrage over the agency’s inability to protect the president and the lack of clear answers about why an intruder was allowed to enter the White House. That sense of joint purpose and patriotism is exactly what Americans who are critical of Congress—and especially the GOP-controlled House—have been demanding for years. But that wasn’t good enough for the New York Times. It published an article today that attempted to question the sincerity of Republicans on the issue but which actually told us a lot more about the mindset of liberals than it did about conservatives.

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When the director of the Secret Service was hauled before the House of Representatives’ Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, Democrats and Republicans were united by a sense of outrage over the agency’s inability to protect the president and the lack of clear answers about why an intruder was allowed to enter the White House. That sense of joint purpose and patriotism is exactly what Americans who are critical of Congress—and especially the GOP-controlled House—have been demanding for years. But that wasn’t good enough for the New York Times. It published an article today that attempted to question the sincerity of Republicans on the issue but which actually told us a lot more about the mindset of liberals than it did about conservatives.

For Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker there’s something fishy about Republicans expressing concern about threats to the president’s safety. While liberals took umbrage at any attempt to question their patriotism during the years when George W. Bush—the object of their unbridled contempt and rage—was in the White House, Baker was reflecting the mindset of Democrats who think conservative criticism of the Secret Service is hypocritical. For the Times and Baker’s many sources on the left, there is something weird about the ability of Republicans to fiercely oppose President Obama’s policies while still being able to worry about possible threats to his life and that of his family.

According to some of the Democrats Baker quoted, the criticism being leveled at the Secret Service from Republicans is pure cynicism. They think any anger about the lapses in the president’s security—including an incident in Atlanta in which an armed man took pictures of the president in an elevator that was not known when Pierson testified yesterday—is merely an excuse to criticize the administration.

Baker did manage to find one Democrat to contradict his thesis. Paul Begala, a hyper-partisan political consultant who torches conservatives for a living on CNN rightly brushed back the Times’s thesis:

Paul Begala, no stranger to partisan warfare as a longtime adviser to Mr. Clinton, said Republican lawmakers were asking the right questions out of genuine concern. “This is totally on the level,” he said. “They’re acting like real human beings and patriotic Americans.”

But this was the exception in an article that didn’t bother to conceal the snark that dripped from every paragraph. Yet the overt partisanship that characterizes most pieces published in the Times, especially many of those that purport to be straight news, doesn’t entirely explain the decision to treat bipartisan anger about a government agency’s incompetence as an appropriate moment to question Republican sincerity about security at the presidential mansion.

Part of the problem stems from the White House itself. Rather than making clear that the president and his staff are as angry about this as everyone else, spokespeople for the administration were circling the wagons around Pierson until her resignation this afternoon. That was bizarre since as much as the GOP delights in pointing out Obama’s many failures, no reasonable person thinks there is a Republican or Democratic way of carrying out the Secret Service’s duties or believes the president wants the people protecting his family to fail.

Yet there is something more to this than the administration’s consistent tin ear about how to manage a scandal.

What Baker was tapping into with his article is the obvious yet unstated belief on the part of many of the left that Republicans are not just Americans who disagree with them and their leader about policy but are instead vicious racists who want Obama to die. There is no other way to explain not only Baker’s snark but also the refusal to understand that Republicans, like their Democratic colleagues, want government institutions and the commander in chief protected against attack.

Thus, rather than demonstrating the Republicans’ insincerity this reaction to the Secret Service fiasco tells us all we need to know about Washington gridlock. Rather than conservative extremism being the main factor behind the impasse in the capitol, it is actually the refusal of liberals to view Republicans through any prism but their own prejudices. There is plenty of bad will on both sides in our dysfunctional and deeply divided political system these days. But the reflexive refusal of liberals to believe that Republicans don’t actually want Obama to die at the hands of an assassin reveals just how deep the problem of hyper-partisanship is on the left.

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Keystone Kops at the White House

It might possibly be pathetically funny–if it weren’t so unnerving.

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It might possibly be pathetically funny–if it weren’t so unnerving.

Omar Gonzalez, a disturbed man, jumps over the White House fence and makes it past the staircase leading up to the President’s private quarters, and through the East Room all the way to the Green Room entrance, before finally being “tackled” and arrested.

Oh, and he “overpowered” a female Secret Service agent along the way. And, um, the front door to the White House was unlocked. And they couldn’t shoot the guy or anything because he was “unarmed”–except it turned out he had a knife on him, and 800 rounds of ammo, a machete, and two hatchets in his car, parked nearby. And he had been stopped on August 25 at the White House with a hatchet in his waistband. And just before he jumped the fence three weeks later, two Secret Service officers recognized him from that August encounter but did nothing about it. And he had been pulled over in July in Virginia, where cops found various weapons in his car, and a map with the White House circled–an incident duly reported to both the ATF and the Secret Service.

In keeping with the ethos of the Obama administration, the Secret Service lied about the incident, claiming the intruder had been stopped just inside the White House door–until “whistleblowers” revealed the truth.

The truth being that if Gonzalez had had a bomb hidden under his shirt instead of just a knife, and if the Obama family had been at home, the outcome could have been a national nightmare instead of a mere exercise in buffoonery.

“I am committed to a full and robust fact-finding that allows me to look at what went wrong.”

Thus spake Secret Service director Julia Pierson at the House hearing where she was raked over the coals–even by Democrats.

Apparently, what went wrong is that the Secret Service has turned into the Keystone Kops.

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An Unfair Attack on the Administration

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, writing about the prostitution scandal in Colombia, where reports are that as many as 21 Secret Service agents and military personnel paid for sex before President Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas on Friday, said this:

When the White House says its job is to “conduct [itself] with the utmost dignity and probity,” it seems somewhat contradictory to the culture of permissiveness this administration has created here at home. When you relentlessly attack moral principles, as this White House has done over the course of three years, it becomes increasingly difficult for the administration to call these actions wrong. …

The United States, under this administration, is a country that increasingly celebrates sexual indulgence. Is it any wonder this country is suffering from an ethical identity crisis? This is what comes of an administration that systematically destroys the moral foundations of our military, government service, and public schools. On one hand, the administration has tried to force our military to embrace homosexuality by making unnatural and immoral sex legal–and on the other, it’s outraged that its military is engaging in another form of legal but immoral sex. (Prostitution is permissible in Colombia’s “tolerated zones.”) Both behaviors are inappropriate, unhealthy, and destructive. Yet only one seems to incense government officials.

If this seems a bit muddled, that’s because it is. But this culture of moral confusion is inevitable when American leaders push a radical social policy that arbitrarily gives sexual license to some and condemns it from others.

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Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, writing about the prostitution scandal in Colombia, where reports are that as many as 21 Secret Service agents and military personnel paid for sex before President Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas on Friday, said this:

When the White House says its job is to “conduct [itself] with the utmost dignity and probity,” it seems somewhat contradictory to the culture of permissiveness this administration has created here at home. When you relentlessly attack moral principles, as this White House has done over the course of three years, it becomes increasingly difficult for the administration to call these actions wrong. …

The United States, under this administration, is a country that increasingly celebrates sexual indulgence. Is it any wonder this country is suffering from an ethical identity crisis? This is what comes of an administration that systematically destroys the moral foundations of our military, government service, and public schools. On one hand, the administration has tried to force our military to embrace homosexuality by making unnatural and immoral sex legal–and on the other, it’s outraged that its military is engaging in another form of legal but immoral sex. (Prostitution is permissible in Colombia’s “tolerated zones.”) Both behaviors are inappropriate, unhealthy, and destructive. Yet only one seems to incense government officials.

If this seems a bit muddled, that’s because it is. But this culture of moral confusion is inevitable when American leaders push a radical social policy that arbitrarily gives sexual license to some and condemns it from others.

Let’s examine Perkins’s arguments in turn.

The notion that the Obama administration is “systematically destroy[ing] the moral foundation of our military” strikes me as intemperate and unfair. Most (though not all) senior members of the military, including Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and General David Petraeus, believed that the time had come to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). So did then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Are they part of the systematic effort to destroy the moral foundation of the military as well?

The core of this debate is whether unit morale would suffer if gays were open about their sexual orientation. There is evidence that because of shifting sexual mores, including attitudes towards gays, unit morale would not suffer. (The Department of Defense’s Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” indicates that there was low risk of service disruptions because of repeal of the ban.) It’s important to note that other countries that allow openly gay people to serve in the military (like Israel) haven’t experienced combat readiness, unit cohesion or morale problems. In reviewing the many countries that permit gays and lesbians to serve openly in their military, the Defense Department’s report found that, “Uniformly, these nations reported that they were aware of no units that had a degradation of cohesion or combat effectiveness, and that the presence of gay men and lesbians in combat units had not been raised as an issue by any of their units deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.” (Page 89 of the Defense Department report shows that at the time it was issued, 35 nations permitted gays and lesbians to serve openly in their military vs. six nations that excluded gay men and lesbians from serving or serving openly in the military.) We’ll of course be able to make an informed judgment of the effects of repealing DADA soon enough, since we’re now testing the proposition.

Then there’s the argument that the Obama administration is giving “sexual license” and promoting an “ideology of unrestraint.” The logic goes like this: overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” leads to a brothel in Cartagena.

This argument is, I think, quite weak. For one thing, most of those caught up in the prostitution scandal are Secret Service agents, not members of the military. And it’s hard to believe that if “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” hadn’t been overturned all of seven months ago, then the Secret Service and the military personnel who reportedly solicited prostitution would instead have stayed on the straight and narrow. There’s a reason prostitution is referred to as the world’s oldest profession. What Perkins is engaging in is the logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”). President Obama overturned DADT. Secret Service agents and members of the military were caught up in a prostitution scandal in Cartagena. QED.

Nor does DADT have much to do with “celebrating sexual indulgence.” Military standards of conduct already prohibit fraternization and unprofessional relationships. They also address various forms of harassment and unprofessional behavior, prescribe appropriate dress and appearance, and provide guidelines on public displays of affection. Repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell doesn’t change any of that; it simply means that for the first time in America’s military history, service members would be allowed to publicly reveal their sexual orientation without fear of reprisal.

As for the “culture of permissiveness,” here Perkins is (inadvertently) making the case of same-sex advocates, who argue that gays should be allowed to marry in order to place them within an institution (marriage) that encourages fidelity. The argument is that same-sex marriage would weaken the “culture of permissiveness” since marriage discourages it. Same-sex marriage would, according to its proponents, be a profoundly traditionalizing act. Again, we shall see (a handful of states now recognize same-sex unions and more will soon follow).

There are certainly grounds on which to criticize the Obama administration, including on social policy (see the Obama administration’s decision to require Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to provide insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and abortifacients, in violation of their conscience and creed). And intelligent and honest people will disagree on issues like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and legalizing gay marriage. But the idea that the prostitution scandal in Colombia points to “the significant erosion of ethical standards in the Obama administration” is simply wrong. Everybody’s interests, including the interests of social conservatives, would be better served by engaging these issues in a serious, sober, and empirically rigorous manner.

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The Killer Bow?

Jimmy Carter’s presidency was not going well by the spring of 1979, but when on a fishing trip near his home Carter was forced to fend off what later became known as the “killer rabbit,” the fateful rodent rendezvous became a metaphor for his presidency. This report reminds us:

The Associated Press told it this way: “A ‘killer rabbit’ attacked President Carter on a recent trip to Plains, Ga., penetrating Secret Service security and forcing the chief executive to beat back the beast with a canoe paddle. The rabbit, which the president later guessed was fleeing in panic from some predator, actually swam toward a canoe from which Carter was fishing in a pond. It was hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared, and making straight for the president.”

Mr. Carter escaped uninjured, but the same could not be said for his reputation. Two months after surviving the killer rabbit, the president made what came to be known as his “malaise speech,” in which he spoke about Americans’ “crisis of confidence.” A connection between those two events was never proved.

But the killer rabbit had taken its toll. Here was Carter under siege, inept and just plain ridiculous — and trying to smash a rabbit with a canoe paddle. Soon this incident was a punch line in many a late-night comic’s routine.

So, is “the bow” Obama’s “killer rabbit” moment — a silly and seemingly small event that comes to encapsulate growing unease with a president who hasn’t quite figured out that the world is a dangerous place and that it is his job to perceive dangers and act decisively to protect American interests? Time will tell. But “the bow” has all the makings of the sort of iconic event that can ensnare a president and come to crystallize his shortcomings. The dig on Obama, which is now gaining increasing credence beyond conservative pundits, is that he is insufficiently resolute, too deferential and naive about the ways in which adversaries perceive us.

You would be hard pressed to come up with a better encapsulation of this sense than “the bow.” And unlike Carter’s case, Obama’s faux pas happened in a real-world diplomatic context. In that regard, the bow may have topped the rabbit (and even the last most embarrassing encounter between a Japanese official and a U.S. president, which, to be fair, was involuntary) in the annals of presidential embarrassments.

Jimmy Carter’s presidency was not going well by the spring of 1979, but when on a fishing trip near his home Carter was forced to fend off what later became known as the “killer rabbit,” the fateful rodent rendezvous became a metaphor for his presidency. This report reminds us:

The Associated Press told it this way: “A ‘killer rabbit’ attacked President Carter on a recent trip to Plains, Ga., penetrating Secret Service security and forcing the chief executive to beat back the beast with a canoe paddle. The rabbit, which the president later guessed was fleeing in panic from some predator, actually swam toward a canoe from which Carter was fishing in a pond. It was hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared, and making straight for the president.”

Mr. Carter escaped uninjured, but the same could not be said for his reputation. Two months after surviving the killer rabbit, the president made what came to be known as his “malaise speech,” in which he spoke about Americans’ “crisis of confidence.” A connection between those two events was never proved.

But the killer rabbit had taken its toll. Here was Carter under siege, inept and just plain ridiculous — and trying to smash a rabbit with a canoe paddle. Soon this incident was a punch line in many a late-night comic’s routine.

So, is “the bow” Obama’s “killer rabbit” moment — a silly and seemingly small event that comes to encapsulate growing unease with a president who hasn’t quite figured out that the world is a dangerous place and that it is his job to perceive dangers and act decisively to protect American interests? Time will tell. But “the bow” has all the makings of the sort of iconic event that can ensnare a president and come to crystallize his shortcomings. The dig on Obama, which is now gaining increasing credence beyond conservative pundits, is that he is insufficiently resolute, too deferential and naive about the ways in which adversaries perceive us.

You would be hard pressed to come up with a better encapsulation of this sense than “the bow.” And unlike Carter’s case, Obama’s faux pas happened in a real-world diplomatic context. In that regard, the bow may have topped the rabbit (and even the last most embarrassing encounter between a Japanese official and a U.S. president, which, to be fair, was involuntary) in the annals of presidential embarrassments.

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