There is a knot of people standing outside the Northwest Gate of the White House. They are cold and unhappy, clutching driver’s licenses and other forms of identification.
Taking his turn, one man shouts into a communications box. He has an appointment, but he is made to feel as though he is a rascal after the silver.
There are no welcome mats at this or any other gate to the White House. You feel under suspicion until you are cleared in–when you go from indignity to thrilling proximity to power.
There are no waiting rooms or seats at the gates. There is no one posted at the gates to welcome visitors.
Things go badly for visitors who are not carrying ID. Some years ago, singer Vic Damone and his wife, Rena Rowan Damone, showed up at the Northwest Gate. They had an appointment, but Mrs. Damone didn’t bring her purse and didn’t have any ID. No ID, no entry.
The Damone tableau is played out frequently. The People’s House is not people-friendly.
Worse, because entry is badly organized, and often excessively restrictive, neither visitors nor guards respect the system–a clue as to how the Bonnie and Clyde of social-climbing, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, got in to President Obama’s first state dinner without an invitation, and even spoke to the President.
Security at the White House gates has grown since the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. Every subsequent administration has built on the excess security, and faux security, of the previous one.
The guards are members of the uniformed unit of the Secret Service. They complain about the job a lot. The problem seems to be pay; their beef contributes to the attitude faced by visitors.
The Salahi affair demonstrates how too much security results in a breachable wall. But there is too much faux security in Washington, too.
Since 9/11, a vast army of security people (rent-a-cops) has taken over corporate and government buildings in the nation’s capital. They sit at desks or in glass boxes in the lobby of almost every office building. They are there to get visitors to sign in and to show the dreaded ID.
But you can sign in as almost anyone and nothing happens. Any name is good enough in the world of faux security.
Every week I go to a particular radio studio, where I have to sign in and wait for a producers to escort me. The busy producers have to leave their consoles. The guards know this is a waste of time and effort. Everyone despises the charade and, therefore, disrespects the system.
At Voice of America headquarters, you have to produce a driver’s license and have your picture taken each time you enter the building. Taking pictures of all visitors is something even the White House does not require.
So which national secrets is Voice of America hiding that the White House is not? –-For the Hearst/New York Times Syndicate