Secret Service: the surprise scandal hit of the fall season

How many people thought the Secret Service would become one of the biggest scandals of the fall season, as the agency suddenly becomes synonymous with dysfunctional bureaucracy, cover-ups, and staggering incompetence?  They’ve had problems all through the Obama years, but after one crazy fence-jumping incident and a day of hearings, the formerly respected agency has gone completely off the rails.  It’s amazing what they’ve been doing, how many failures they’ve been hiding, how the Obama White House has reacted, and how the media is interpreting the story.

That funny little story about a disturbed but harmless individual jumping over the White House fence, running across the lawn, and getting tackled at the front door has been revealed as an absolute fiction, peddled not only to the public but to congressional staffers.  New revelations were still trickling out while the House Oversight hearing was in progress – not through the testimony of embattled Secret Service Director Julia Pierson’s testimony, but through media leaks and whistleblowers who sounded off while she was testifying.  Let that sink in for a moment – she was still withholding important details from Congress while they were grilling her for withholding important details, even as inside sources dished dirt to media outlets.  Departing Attorney General Eric “Stonewall” Holder must be eating his heart out.

What House Oversight chairman Darrel Issa (R-CA) described as an “early false report” lies in tatters.  Now we know that Omar Gonzalez, on a mission to warn President Obama that the “atmosphere is collapsing” (hmm, wonder where he got that idea!) jumped the White House fence with a knife in his pocket, ran the length of a football field, blew through the unlocked front doors, sailed past an alarm system that was disabled because it makes an annoying noise, zipped past the stairs leading up to the First Family’s residence, overpowered a Secret Service agent (originally identified as female, although certain media outlets later stealth-deleted that detail from their reports, because it’s Not Helpful), rampaged through the East Room, and finally ran afoul of an off-duty agent who was on his way home after putting the Obama daughters on a helicopter.

Not only was the Secret Service keeping the real story under wraps, but Director Pierson seems to have a confused set of priorities.  Here’s Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) excoriating her for congratulating her agents on showing “tremendous restraint” by subduing Gonzalez without hurting him.  “Tremendous restraint is not what we’re looking for,” Chaffetz explained to her.  “It sends a very mixed message.  The message should be overwhelming force.”  He went on to discuss the importance of letting potential White House intruders carrying unknown weapons know that they’ll most likely be killed before they reach the building, rather than letting them dream about leading a pack of Secret Service agents on a Benny Hill chase through the mansion.

The Gonzalez incident uncorked the bottle on numerous other strange Secret Service lapses, notably the day earlier this month when President Obama was allowed to share an elevator with an armed security contractor who has three felony convictions relating to assault and battery.  No wonder the public has grown at least momentarily obsessed with the Secret Service story – they just can’t believe what they’re hearing.  It’s also a story with a compelling, simple premise: there’s one thing the public expects the Secret Service to do, with a very high level of competence, in a world of constant danger.

Rep. Chaffetz captured that sense of astonishment: “You have a convicted felon within arm’s reacy of the President, and they never did a background check.  Words aren’t strong enough for the outrage I feel for the safety of the President and his family.  His life was in danger.  This country would be a different world today if he had pulled out his gun.”

Pierson performed the reliable Obama-era Ritual of Evading Responsibility, a simple spell in which the magician simply says “I accept full responsibility” and then waits for everyone to forget about what happened.  No one seems to be lapsing into the expected hypnotic trance this time; Chaffetz is calling for Pierson’s resignation, and he’s probably going to get it.  The sense of congressional disapproval in Pierson’s performance is bipartisan – the toughest verbal shot she took on Capitol Hill came from a Democrat, Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, who told Pierson: “Iwish to God you protected the White House like you are protecting your reputation here today.”

And yet, there’s already a twisted partisan fight shaping up in the media over this, which would seem confusing at first, because you’d think Democrats and liberals would be at least as outraged by the threat to the Obama family’s safety as Republicans and conservatives.  This is partly due to President Obama’s support, thus far, for Pierson.  His loyal followers are having a hard time reconciling their knee-jerk rabid support for everything Obama says with the little voice in the back of their heads warning about his personal safety.  They’re not ready to accept that Obama can be so wrong about something that his poor judgment could put his very life in danger.

Also, there’s the ideological tendency of the Left to equate dissent with hatred, while conversely associating agreement with submission.  If you disagree with a great man like Barack Obama, the thinking goes, you must hate him on the most vile level, and wish to see him physically injured or killed.  That’s how liberals felt about George Bush, so they assume it’s how conservatives think about Barack Obama.  The idea that simple human compassion would lead to a heartfelt response like the one Rep. Chaffetz gave is alien to the Left.  They don’t really grasp the concept that respect for the office of the presidency would endure despite serious criticism of the current occupant, either.  To them, the man is the office.  (In a similar vein, they don’t seem to understand that Pierson can be criticized for her leadership without being assaulted on a personal level, or because she’s a woman.  Nothing personal, thank you for your service, but it’s time for a change, Director Pierson.)

And of course, the hard Left cannot resist the opportunity to take shots at Republicans by reading their minds and denouncing the dark motivations lurking deep in the conservative consciousness.  This is, again, germane to the Left – they always psychoanalyze their opponents, claim the power to divine what they really mean, and treat dissent as a form of either dishonesty or delusion.  They know the Secret Service scandal is going to hurt Obama politically, because of his past support for Pierson, and the sense that White House security is a matter of personal concern to the President.  Therefore, some liberals are going to spend the rest of this week trying to spin a little political gold from the latest pile of straw to drop in Obama’s lap.

Exhibit A is the jaw-dropping op-ed from Peter Baker at the New York Timeswho is convinced Republicans can’t be all that sincere in either their demands for Secret Service efficiency or concern for the Obama family’s safety.  “It would not be all that surprsing if Mr. Obama were a little wary of all the professed sympathy,” sniffs Baker:

Democrats joined in the grilling, and some were as tough as or tougher than any Republican on the Secret Service director, Julia Pierson. But privately, some Democratic officeholders and strategists have complained that the episode contributes to a broader impression that the Obama administration???s competence has come under fire on a variety of fronts, including last year???s botched rollout of Mr. Obama???s health care program, the breakdown of services at the Veterans Affairs Department and the handling of a series of international crises.

Coming just weeks before midterm elections, they said, the intense focus on the matter might further undercut confidence in the government Mr. Obama runs even though it was hardly his fault an intruder with a knife made it into the White House.

???This is an opportunity to make it seem like nobody???s in charge in the Obama administration, even though it???s almost certainly not the case that political appointees could have done anything to change the facts in this situation,??? said Matt Bennett, a White House aide under President Bill Clinton and now vice president of Third Way, a political group. ???I???m not surprised that they???re doing this.???

Like other Democrats, Mr. Bennett said Congress had a duty to exercise oversight over the Secret Service and investigate what went wrong, and he said serious questions had been raised in recent days. At the same time, Democrats said, if it happened to damage the perception of the president in the process, Republicans would not object.

???I do think for a lot of Republican congressmen, this is a twofer,??? said Erik Smith, a former House Democratic aide and a campaign adviser to Mr. Obama. ???The Secret Service may be in the line of fire, but they???re not the only target.???

There are also comments from Democrats who accept the sincerity of Republican concerns, such as old Clinton hand Paul Begala, who said Republicans were “acting like real human beings and patriotic Americans.”  But I would submit other Democrats’ effort to hyper-politicize even this scandal are doing more damage to their Party, and the Big Government they revere, than any Republican could.  If we’re to the point where even questions about a guy running through the White House with a knife in his pocket, or an armed man with a criminal past sharing an elevator with the President, are dismissed as mere partisan sniping… while the Secret Service director must be blindly defended from all criticism because she’s (a) female and (b) an Obama appointee… we’re looking at compelling evidence that Democrat ideology is too damned neurotic to run anything bigger than a popsicle stand.

Update: Secret Service director Julia Pierson tendered her resignation on Wednesday afternoon, as announced by Homeland Security Sercretary Jeh Johnson: “Today Julia Pierson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it. I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the Nation. As an interim Acting Director of the Secret Service, I am appointing Joseph Clancy, formerly Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service. Mr. Clancy retired from the Secret Service in 2011. I appreciate his willingness to leave his position in the private sector on very short notice and return to public service for a period.”