The “Idiot Wind” after the breach

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In one of the best songs – “Idiot Wind” – on one of the greatest albums of all time – “Blood on the Tracks” – Bob Dylan scolds, “Idiot Wind blowing every time you move your mouth/ Blowing down the back roads headin’ south/ Idiot Wind, blowing every time you move your teeth/ You’re an idiot babe/ It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.” While this song involves Dylan lamenting a character’s false accusations (“They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy…”), it can nonetheless be used to describe a current tragedy in the United States today: the “idiot winds” of our hyper-partisan and overly politicized culture. (This interpretation of “Idiot Wind” is acceptable, in my mind, due to the timeless nature of its album; this is real poetry).Indeed, while most pundits already admit that we live in obnoxiously partisan times, several recent events hammer this point home—most notably the security breach involving an armed trespasser getting past multiple levels of Secret Service at the White House, and the subsequent Congressional review of the Secret Service.

On Sept. 19, 2014, a man, armed with a knife, jumped the White House fence and made it into the White House itself—breaching numerous security measures—before finally being subdued by Secret Service agents. This event caused a Congressional uproar: Was the president really safe? Is the White House truly an impenetrable presidential fortress?

The political rumpus that happened after Sept. 19 involved condemnations of the Service by both the public and lawmakers and calls for its director, Julia Pierson, to step down. A Congressional hearing was called, and Pierson was lambasted by Democrats and Republicans alike who were concerned with the agency’s ability to protect the president.

Indeed, it truly seemed like a golden moment in American politics—Republicans and Democrats uniting on their shared concern for the first family. Of course, the concern was probably genuine; members of Congress, by the nature of the job, are engaged and committed public servants, respectful of the president and his office.

But unfortunately, the whole hullabaloo did have some political undertones. As Matt Bennett, a senior vice president of activist organization Third Way, says in a Sept. 30 New York Times article on the issue, “This [bi-partisan Congressional scrutiny] is an opportunity to makes it seem like nobody’s in charge in the Obama administration, even though it’s almost certainly not the case that political appointees [Pierson] could have done anything to change the facts in this situation.”

And it is Republicans who have the most to gain from this “opportunity”—by criticizing the Secret Service, they’re showing their legitimate concern for the president, but they also know that such scrutiny could add to the public’s negative views (Have you seen opinion polls lately?) on the Obama administration’s competency in running the government. And the president is not about to publicly criticize those people necessary to his protection. As the New York Times article says, “Although the target of the legislative scrutiny is the Secret Service, not the president, the furor over security has left the White House on the defensive.” While this interpretation of the reaction to the breach is cynical, perhaps, the facts—and political realities of the situation—unfortunately point to its validity.

Perhaps the lapses in White House security are more rudimentary than people think. Maybe being a Secret Service agent is just a tough, taxing job. As an NPR report from Oct. 6 says, “The agency with the responsibility for protecting the president, vice president and their families rates in the bottom third of job satisfaction within the federal government.”

Perhaps the agents just need a vacation, but for now, we’re stuck with the usual idiot winds: politics and partisanship.