Protecting the President

Like most of you, I’m bewildered at the circumstances surrounding the crashing of last week’s State Dinner by a couple of publicity proselytes — people who have become followers of the belief that simply being famous is a worthy goal and that having people know your name is as good as having people know you.

It’s not the couples’ tacky behavior that I care about, although I suppose that what their story says of our society is important. (I’ll give you a hint: What it says is that our collective soul is rotting). Cultural analysis here is a luxury that shouldn’t take attention away from a far greater concern, and that is that the only institution on Earth accountable for keeping Barack Obama safe couldn’t even be counted on in this instance to keep a couple of unknowns from chatting face to face with him in his own residence. The mistake here is way beyond the “we’re embarrassed” apologies of the Secret Service.

A President who is arguably the most threatened in modern history, a man who is the focus of more undisguised hatred from more often-disguised lunatics than any public figure we have, had his first State Dinner marred by the ineptitude of the Secret Service — not just the detail assigned to him that night, but the entire agency. Somehow two uninvited, fame-obsessed groupies finagled their way into a high-profile, invitation-only White House event held in honor of a foreign head of state, which put both the Indian prime minister and his host — a man whose death has been the dream of many of his opponents — at tremendous risk. The Indian people can’t be too happy about it, and the American people ought to be livid. At least the ones who aren’t Christ Church elders.

I’m not given to conspiracy theories. I don’t believe there’s a cadre of Secret Service members who would deliberately steer the President into danger or fail to protect him if it occurred. But I am given to harsh criticism of the previous Administration, and the consolidation of the Secret Service into Homeland Security under George W. Bush’s “just do SOMETHING!” approach to fighting terrorism reduced its funding and scuttled its organization. There’s no excuse for dereliction of duty, and it seems that one of the easier assignments for the Service would be the checking of guests’ identification against a State Dinner list of invitees.

The country has a right to expect that people sworn to give their lives to save the President’s in the line of fire would be embarrassed if a catastrophe had happened in a State Dinner receiving line, and it, the President, and the Obama family have a right to expect nothing less than the perfectly executed coordination of responsibilities in effecting his protection.

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