March 08, 2005

Secret Service with a Smile

The Secret Service. It’s not secret, and it’s only a service to a handful of people. Despite its ironic name, however, the Secret Service serves as a model of personal safety and security. Its thoroughness is not to be believed. As the following true stories attest, the Secret Service really is looking out for you. And for me.

In 1996, I was a junior staff writer for my high-school paper. We received news that then-Vice Presidential candidate Jack Kemp was coming to visit our school, an event we considered somewhat important. The Secret Service called our newspaper staff about a week before the campaign stop and inquired as to our coverage. They told us that any photographers would have to submit their cameras and all other equipment for extensive scrutiny. Their rationale: certain chemicals within camera film can conceivably be used to make a toxic chemical bomb.

With our staff at the time, they should not have worried about anyone expressing any less than serious love for the man. Still, we were ultimately denied permission to shoot (sorry, photograph) Kemp in our gymnasium. In the end, our paper made no mention whatsoever of the event, mainly because our next issue came about at about the same time as Clinton’s second inauguration.

More recently, the Secret Service swept the Lafayette area in October 2002 when Dick Cheney dropped by to campaign for future Senatorial loser Suzanne Haik Terrell. As part of its apparently comprehensive sweep, agents stopped by The Vermilion office to inquire about a certain liberal writer (as if there was any chance that I would be at a $1000-a-plate Republican photo-op, even out of morbid curiosity). Supposedly, the Secret Service interrogated the then-editorship about my beliefs, my disposition and even my whereabouts. I found out about this after the fact, so I assume the editors said nice things about me.

It’s almost a shame I didn’t get a visit from the agents, because I never got to thank them for possibly saving my life back in 1992. On Oct. 27 of that year, then-Gov. Bill Clinton came to Lafayette. In stark contrast to “Man of the Rich People” Cheney, Clinton held his campaign bash at a wide-open Girard Park, for free, with live music and dancing.

After his speech, Clinton rushed to the section where I stood and greeted us. Because of his rapid approach, the crowd swarmed and enveloped us. Being a skinny 12-year-old boy in a crowd of hardcore adult Democrats, I could barely breathe. As the CNN camera panned straight on me, I imagined how my internal organs were going to look to the world and to Wolf Blitzer. The Secret Service stepped in quickly, however, and I lived to shake Clinton’s massive hand just after he hugged my mother (insert your joke here).

My father worked diligently for the local Clinton campaign and collaborated with the Secret Service for the event. Afterwards, as Dad tells it, he and an agent were talking over beers. Several drinks later, the agent still maintained a straight face and showed no emotion whatsoever. I don’t know where they get such dedicated professionals, though I was once told by a rejected applicant that one prerequisite is having never smoked pot more than 15 times. I can definitely see the danger of getting too mellow on that job.

Even if I don’t always admire the president or other American political leaders, I will always be in awe of the competence of their protectors, the Secret Service. After all, these are the people who are protecting the people who are supposed to protect us. And that’s no small feat in any era.

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