Obama to Move to Doorman Building skewered one aspect of this story. Citing Security Concerns, Iraq's Prime Minister Cancels Visit to White House suggested another.
Then came further news that the intruder got pretty far into the White House, carrying a knife, with his guns left behind in his car. And it wasn't funny anymore. The head of the Secret Service got grilled in a congressional hearing, and subsequently resigned.
Jelani Cobb (also in the New Yorker) spoke directly to the assassination fears that both preceded and followed this president's election. He reminds us that there were black voters who didn't vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 primaries as a favor to Michelle and their daughters. He reminds us of the startling interview Mrs. Obama in which she responded to the fears that as a black man running for President, he was in danger:
Michelle replied that the dangers of the Presidency were not novel. “I don’t lose sleep about it,” she said. “Because the realities are, as a black man, you know, Barack can get shot going to the gas station”—certainly the first time that this particular demographic truth has been enlisted as a reason to be optimistic about a black man’s prospects."
That's a devastating quote now, after (to take just one example) a black man was shot and killed in the aisles of a Wal-Mart. But for the President, those fears have diminished, mostly because of Barack Obama's own demeanor, Cobb writes: "In 2008, Obama projected calm amid political turbulence. As President, this demeanor has been part of the reason that such fears have receded to the extent that they have. Yet a population that lived through the September 11th attacks can scarcely ever confuse remote likelihoods with complete impossibilities."
Now what seems to be a shocking White House vulnerability has been exposed, and it has been making news for days. Terrorists around the world have certainly taken notice. But it's even more dangerous than that.
In this regard I think of beheading. Until a month or so ago, beheading was so unthinkable that it was a joke about times long past. But it isn't a joke anymore. I was startled to see it referenced that way in a cartoon about it (once again, in the New Yorker) just from September. More recently however, something that suggested beheading had to be cut out from a Doctor Who episode at the last minute.
But those weren't the only effects. Suddenly there were news reports in the US of ordinary people beheading other ordinary people. I recall seeing two, possibly there were more. Maybe that doesn't qualify for going viral, but at the least it ceased to be unthinkable.
I seem to recall that this successful intruder followed a day or two after somebody else scaled the White House fence but was stopped on the lawn. It's become thinkable. The aura of invulnerability is gone.
It's also a reminder that those most virulently opposed to President Obama's very existence as President are likely to be among the most heavily armed private citizens in America.
It's likely that the White House is better prepared for an armed assault or terrorist attack than a lone man running amuck (but of course, the "lone man" has proven to be the deadliest danger in the past.) But we don't really know now, do we?
It's certainly better that such a security breakdown was exposed without real damage. It's good that Congress got upset about it, because Congress is as responsible as anyone else for it, as their stupid sequester cuts have left the Secret Service hundreds of agents short. Now the guy who used to lead the detail that specifically protected President Obama has come out of retirement to take charge. He's got some work to do, and fast.
Though some people profited, this country never got over the assassination of President Kennedy. African Americans in particular have never gotten over the assassination of Martin Luther King. It doesn't take much imagination to understand the stakes.
Update: I don't much trust the Politico site, but I do trust the writer Marc Ambinder, and his piece on the Secret Service is revealing, and troubling.
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