Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fenced In

On a recent return visit to Los Angeles I went by some properties that I had owned at one point – another time and another life. Each were classically Southern California – built in the Spanish style and easily fit right in with the dozens of others like them on their streets. One of the first improvements I made at each property was planting hedges around the perimeter of the property. While they’d grow to be over the six-foot high maximum allowed under zoning codes – I found they provided a rich vegetation against the desert look of the buildings and also were a wonderful privacy barrier. Likely in drought season I wouldn’t have the same appreciation for them, I’d always want to have some solution to keep prying eyes from…prying. The White House is following suit.

“Secret Service Dreams of a New (14-foot) White House Picket Fence” reads the New York Times headline. The article outlines the reasons that the security detail wants to exchange the existing fence for one that’s 1.3 of a story of most houses. It highlights that Thomas Jefferson had a barrier up during the Civil War and for most of the last century a 6-foot version of the fence has been up.


President John Adams was the first President to live in the White House. Thomas Jefferson described it as “the People’s House.” The Washington Post in 2014 wrote a retrospective about the history of the House and how people were able to walk in at their leisure. “Jefferson and subsequent presidents, along with their wives, would greet visitors in the East Room around lunchtime. People were not allowed in during the morning, when the president was sleeping, or while he was out of town. People were, however, allowed to have essentially unfettered access to the White House grounds.”

President Pierce was the first President to demand a full-time bodyguard in response to having an egg thrown at him. The Secret Service began its protective duties of the President in 1901 after the attempted assassination of President McKinley. President Cleveland had a force of 27 guarding the property. The article states: “It grew from a White House police force of 80 officers in 1942 to 1,200 members by 1995.” According to Wikipedia in 2016 the Service has 6,500 employees.

We live in a violent and dangerous world full of terrorist’s hell bent on doing destruction to America and her institutions. However deeply that statement is believed it does not make sense to have the White House be open so that anybody can simply wander in at their leisure as they once did. The President should have protection. Where’s the balance? In listening to an analysis on POTUS about the proposed fence the consensus was that it would be approved by the Executive branch: “Every modern President has deferred to the Secret Service on these matters.”

Providing protection in the President’s residence and office is one thing. The movement of the President is quite another. One analysis showed that it takes a minimum of fourteen vehicles and 30 people to move the President. The Oregonian in 2015 went through the entire process of a Presidential visit and reported that it takes thousands of people who come in on at least six airplanes – including his own culinary crew – and disrupts businesses and traffic for days before and after even a 15-minute drop by.

It’s all a bit much. We must protect the elected leader of the country. The current method of coverage insulates the President from connecting with the real world. There is literally a buffer of people and equipment in the way. Is it any wonder that administration after administration is further distanced from the people they serve? Is it any wonder that the people have risen up in frustration and anger that their leaders “don’t get it”?

The fence is slated to be built in 2018. If President H. Clinton is living there I’m sure the fence will be opaque. If President Trump is living there I wonder who he’s going to expect to pay for it? The taxpayer, naturally…the very people he’d be protected from.

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