While serving in the Marine Corps and stationed at a base near President Nixon’s western White House, I had a few conversations with off-duty secret service agents. I was always impressed with their devotion to duty and their culture of professionalism. In fact, I was so impressed that I considered applying to the Secret Service when I completed my tour of duty in the Marine Corps. But as it will do, live intervened and set me on a different course. Fast forward 39 years and things seem to have gone downhill concerning the professionalism of the Secret Service since my brief interaction with the organization.
As one who has great respect for the Secret Service, I am hoping that the recent behavior of agents in Columbia turns out to be an anomaly. However, I fear that may not be the case. The frat boy behavior displayed by agents in Columbia might turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg. When the dust finally settles around this episode, what we are more likely to find is that the culture of the Secret Service has gone downhill in parallel with the broader culture of American society. In fact, when I put what appears to have happened to the culture of the Secret Service in the context of what has happened to American culture in general, the episode in Columbia begins to make sense.
Think about it. While it is true that the Secret Service draws its agents from the most elite members of its applicant pool, agents are still products of the society they grew up in. If we consider the values that prevail in contemporary American society, the behavior of the Secret Service agents in Columbia begins to make sense, not that it should be excused. Understanding the behavior of the agents and excusing it are two vastly different things. But if the leaders of the Secret Service are going to prevent this type of behavior in the future, they are going to have to risk instituting training that will run counter to liberal orthodoxy, not something easily done in an environment of leftwing intolerance. Secret Service officials are going to have to teach their new recruits some things their parents, teachers, coaches, and society in general obviously failed to teach them.
Observe how liberals are responding to the Columbian incident. They are focusing their criticism exclusively on how the behavior of the agents in question might have put the President at risk. This, of course, is the first issue to be considered. However, there are other reasons why soliciting prostitutes is wrong, reasons the left does not want to be part of the discussion. These reasons fall under the broad heading of morality, a subject that makes liberals nervous. Why? Because moral relativity is a sacrosanct belief of liberals. Hence, it is difficult for liberals who support such practices as living together out of wedlock, adultery, abortion on demand, gay marriage, and child pornography to complain about the immorality of a few Secret Service agents soliciting prostitutes.
Because the topic of morality cannot be approached openly and truthfully by liberals, they have no grounds for criticizing the Secret Service agents who behaved badly except to focus on how the President might have been compromised. What is especially interesting about the dilemma liberals face in dealing with the Secret Service debacle is that if the contemptible behavior of the agents is not morally wrong, how could it possibly compromise the President or anyone?
Another problem the left faces in directly confronting the deeper moral issues surrounding the Secret Service debacle in Columbia is the example set by so many prominent liberal figures. My first thought when I heard about the incident in Columbia was to wonder if the agents in question had completed their Secret Service apprenticeship while protecting President Clinton. If so, they are probably thinking, what did we do wrong? I also wondered if any of the agents in question had been assigned to presidential candidate, John Edwards. Enough said along those lines. I am sure you get the picture.
To rebuild its tarnished image, the Secret Service is going to have to add some topics to its training regimen that will not go over well with liberal elites. This poses a real dilemma for Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and other liberal decision makers, a dilemma I will enjoy watching them wrestle with. (The author thanks retired Navy diver, Jeff Sober, for the title of this column).