SECRET SERVICE: THE SATIRE
Once they played the hero’s part:
Cool, courageous, tough and smart.
But Secret Service status drops
When they behave like Keystone Kops.
The Secret Service has undergone a humiliating downgrading of its status in
recent years. Once an icon of heroic self-sacrifice it is now the butt of derisive humor.
First, in 2012, came the reports that a group of agents, awaiting the arrival of the President for a meeting in Colombia, ended a night of partying by taking prostitutes back to their hotel rooms. When this was discovered by the media a badge went on sale online: “United States Secret Service Booze and Hookers Division”; and the late night jesters were beside themselves:
- Conan O’Brien: “President Obama is gearing up for his presidential campaign. He’s created a new series of ads. The first one boasts : “ Just last week my Secret Service created jobs for 11 Colombian women.”
- Andy Borowitz: “Congress is furious at the Secret Service for consorting with hookers, which has traditionally been Congress’ role.”
This was not merely a moral issue, since consorting with prostitutes might make agents vulnerable to blackmail. But more direct threats to the President and his family were to become the subject of a national furor in September, 2014. An intruder carrying a knife had climbed the White House fence and, despite initial claims that he was stopped immediately after entering an exterior door, had overpowered an officer at the door and reached an area toward the back of the White House before being tackled. Apparently part of the White House alarm system had been turned off. The furor unleashed by this incident was intensified by the revelations that there had been other potentially dangerous breaches: several bullets had been fired at the White House, breaking some exterior glass, yet not discovered for four days; and during a presidential visit to Atlanta a local armed security guard with a criminal record was allowed into an elevator carrying Obama and his Secret Service contingent. There were congressional hearings in which the unfortunate Secret Service Director, Julia Pearson, who had been appointed after the Colombia prostitution scandal, responded to incredulous questioning with such hapless bureaucratese that her resignation became inevitable.
Again the late night hosts unloaded on the Secret Service:
- Jimmy Fallon: “Julia Pearson said she’ll miss being in the White House, but knowing the Secret Service she should be able to come back any time she wants. The door is always open, literally.”
- Seth Meyers: “Julia Pearson is being replaced by the new White House state-of-the-art security system – a scarecrow.”
- David Letterman: “Autumn is a beautiful time of the year. At the White House squirrels are rounding up nuts on the lawn, which is more than the Secret Service is doing.”
- Jon Stewart: “You can’t just turn off the alarm because it’s annoying. This is the White House, not a 1997 Honda Civic parked on your block at 3 a.m.”
Satirewire claimed that, after Pierson’s firing Obama “ looked forward both to finding a successor and for once not sleeping with a gun under the pillow.” Duffelblog, the army’s humor magazine, declared that the White House was bringing in contractors from Uganda, much sought as bodyguards in the Middle East; Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee, is quoted as saaying: “they’ll work for peanuts and no benefits, and no way they’ll be able to afford hookers and booze like the average Secret Service agent does.”
Of course there were cartoons. David Horsey has an agent guarding a White House door, slips out to get a cookie, a mad terrorist rushes by unseen by the agent who returns to his post complaining: “Nothing ever happens here in the White House.” Jim Morin depicts a group of agents looking at bullet-shattered windows and saying “You have to admit our “service” hasn’t been “secret.” John Darkow has Obama and Michelle in bed surrounded by agents as he says: “From now on I’ll lock the front door myself.” Bob Englehart shows an agent as a Keystone Kop with one foot in a paint bucket assuring Obama that “Everything’s under control, Mr. President.”
And along with several cartoons depicting an intruder in the President’s bathroom, was one by a cartoonist apparently oblivious to many people’s fear of the threat of assassination of a black President. Over a caption “White House invader got farther than originally thought”, Jerry Holbert in the Boston Herald , draws a character showering in the president’s bathtub, and asking Obama as he cleans his teeth: “Have you tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste?” Since watermelon jokes have long been a feature of derogatory references to blacks, this created a furor. The newspaper’s editor apologized, but insisted the cartoonist “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body,” and Holbert insisted: “I am not a racist. I just like watermelon.” However, a riposte came in a cartoon by Clay Jones in Liberal America, depicting Holbert studying a book: “Racial Stereotypes to Avoid for Dummies.”
Actually there is nothing new about intruders getting into the White House. FDR was surprised to see a stranger sitting next to him after the lights went up after a movie showing. During Reagan’s second inauguration a man followed the Marine Band into the White house and wandered around for fifteen minutes before he was discovered. In 1974 a helicopter stolen from Fort Meade landed on the South Lawn, and in 1994 an unlicensed pilot crashed a Cessna on the same lawn and was killed.
Unfortunately for Obama the repeated bunglings of the Secret Service have played into the widespread sense, fuelled by the appalling Obamacare roll-out, the VA scandals, and other administrative shortcomings, that his presidency has been well-meaning but sadly short on competence.