Friday, October 17, 2008

Men In Black

First, a disclaimer. The human being depicted in the photograph does not appear to be an agent of the Secret Service, so it is not quite aligned with the topic here, but I liked the picture.

What, then, is the Secret Service? You see them in their clean black suits and dark glasses, often with a little squiggly wire behind one ear, doing a job I shudder to imagine: scanning large crowds of people, ceaselessly, for any sign of menace. A weapon. A suspicious bag. Anything. Their job is to protect government officials.

They fulfill this reponsibility in a country that has a long history of mob justice and political violence. To begin with, we aspire to democracy, which is, as H.L. Mencken described, the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. Although high-profile assassinations have become very difficult to carry out, there remains a potential for terrible suffering if you exercise your right to assemble and protest. I have been spat upon by civilians at some very unexciting war protests - and were it not for a police presence, that gob of spit might easily have been a bottle. On the other hand, if you protest GATT, you could get pepper spray in your eyes courtesy of your local riot squad. "Protesting While Mexican" is enough to get you clubbed in L.A.

Candidates are in a pretty bad spot themselves, within this horrendous mess. So the Secret Service has a huge responsibility to protect officers of the Constitution and candidates for national office. They will investigate verbal threats and prosecute. They take it seriously. As we are reminded in airports, security is no laughing matter.

For most of the time Senator Obama has been a candidate for President, they have been charged with protecting the first black man to be a national party's candidate for president. Imagine being on his detail. The pressure must be great.

Alex Koppelman on Salon reported yesterday that the Secret Service took a mighty big interest in stories about political rallies where attendees shouted "Kill him!" in reference to Obama. Koppelman reported that the investigations have found that the stories are unsubstantiated. They listened to tapes of the rallies and were not convinced that there were authentic threats of violence against the Senator from Illinois.

On the other hand, there is another item about the Secret Service from Steve Benen. As has been the fashion with President Bush's town halls (which have so often been invitation-only events), security is now being used at some Republican campaign events to keep reporters away from other attendees. Not the candidates, mind you, but from the people attending. They don't want reporters talking to McCain-Palin supporters, and are using the Secret Service to keep the press away.

Is this a proper use of the agency? Is Security Service now being used to block the press and assist candidates in achieving political goals? Steve has an interesting suggestion for reporters. In essence, Steve suggests they press on. If the Secret Service is being mis-employed, let's get it out in the open.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Cute picture! I like it, too.