Follow the limosines

Sam Smith – A thought occurred to me as I sat in my car the other day waiting for a presidential cavalcade to make its way noisily down a Washington street: perhaps we should insist on a bit less protection for our leaders based on the theory that if they felt more endangered they would have more sympathy for the rest of us. And their policies might improve.

After all, the justification behind the hyper security is that the lives of presidents and the like are simply too valuable to risk. The logic of this can be easily refuted by simply listening to one of their speeches. Sooner or later even the terrorists would realize that when it comes to George Bushes, we’ve got a million of them – and give up in frustration.

Before the Bush regime, I caught then Governor Tommy Thompson down on the Mall during the Folk Life Festival. He was surrounded by Wisconsinites, some of them drunk, some of them merely enthusiastic. I think I spotted the governor’s security man but I wasn’t certain. In any case no one – unlike much of downtown Washington on a typical day – looked afraid of anything.

Thompson had clearly not yet become accustomed to Washington ways where even the mayor of this city gets a security detail worthy of a small dictatorship fearing an imminent coup.

In the end, a lot of what passes for security is just a matter of culture. There are two basic ways of securing oneself against others: (1) not making them mad at you and (2) defending yourself when they are. What is so striking about our leaders is that they spend so little effort on the first option and so much on the second.

The problem with this is that you not only shield yourself from bullets but from the rest of life as well. And it’s worth remembering that no one lives in a medieval castle for protection anymore. It turned out that they weren’t as safe as the inhabitants thought.

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