Commentary by Pat Murphy
Shortly after Canadian Prime Minister
Pierre Elliot Trudeau was ousted from office in 1979 elections, I saw him
walking through Montreal’s airport terminal, nodding cheerily to passersby as he
moved at a clip to a departure gate with briefcase in hand.
Alone. No bodyguard. Canadians I
interviewed while researching a story about the rebellious Parti Quebecois
leader Rene Levesque said it was entirely normal for prime ministers to be
stripped of their security detail immediately upon leaving office.
Yet, the U.S. obsession for security – or
paranoia about danger – includes Secret Service protection for life for our
No security in the world, even before
Sept. 11, compares to protection of U.S. presidents and vice presidents in
virtual cocoons sealing them from reality in the world’s supposedly most open
This image was reinforced Monday when Vice
President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne popped into the Bellevue area for a
political fund-raiser with 100 guests at Tom O’Gara’s remote Silver Spring Angus
For this last stop before going to his
vacation home in Jackson, Wyo., Cheney required:
- The Air Force’s largest transport, the
four-jet C-17 Globemaster, to cart two armored Cadillac limousines and three
Secret Service SUVs.
- Two military Blackhawk helicopters for
over-flight security and surveillance.
- Two Air Force-operated twin-jet luxury
- An estimated two dozen Secret Service
agents, plus vice presidential aides.
- Added security from the Idaho State
Police, Blaine County Sheriff’s Office, and Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum
police departments stationed along state Highway 75.
Counting a fund-raising stop in Salt Lake
City that raised $300,000 and the Bellevue reception that harvested another
$175,000, the irony is that government costs of this outing undoubtedly far
exceeded contributions, although the Republican National Committee will
reimburse the Treasury for some costs.
Suffocating security and a regal entourage
aren’t Cheney’s idea. This is standard Secret Service procedure for Republican
and Democrat presidents and vice presidents, alike, expense be damned, in the
name of security.
Cheney has added another layer of security
since Sept. 11 by living in "undisclosed locations."
The United States is the only major nation
whose heads of state also travel in first-rate military aircraft. Britain’s Tony
Blair uses British Airways for official trips. Russia’s Vladimir Putin uses
Aeroflot jets. Israel’s Ariel Sharon flies on El Al Airline aircraft. Their
security details also are minimal.
Our emphasis on security—or our
paranoia—is obsessive. Americans own more handguns than any other people. Gated
communities are everywhere. U.S. prisons have the world’s largest populations.
TV cameras peek on business offices and on urban streets.
U.S. airports and seaports have become
armed camps, and each week brings new talk of tighter security and more
restrictions on our lives.
Finally, as if the perfect metaphor for
his visit, Cheney’s Idaho host, Tom O’Gara, made his considerable fortune over
20 years in the manufacture of armored military and corporate vehicles for our
culture of compulsive security.