Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Very Good Read

"In The President's Secret Service; Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect" by Ronald Kessler Crown Publishers 273 pages $26

Kessler has written more than a dozen books on various aspects of our federal government. It amazes me that he was able to write this one as the Secret Service agents are a notoriously close-mouthed society.

Naturally, I loved the gossipy bits -- Richard and Pat Nixon never inter-acted nor showed any affection privately and she really, really liked her martinis. (And who could blame her?)

Jimmy Carter made a big show of going into his office at 5 a.m. to impress the media -- and then promptly took a nap. The carry-on bag he famously carried when boarding Air Force 1 was empty and used as a prop for this "man of the people." Daughter Any was a total brat and enjoyed being mean to agents and stewards on the plane. Carter won "Most Disliked President" from his agents.

Lyndon B. Johnson was well-equipped to, er... conduct personal business and was very proud of that fact, routinely calling people into the bathroom to discuss matters as he showered or sat on the toilet. (Talk about vulgar!)

Nancy Reagan disliked going to the ranch. While there, she spent almost all of her time inside on the phone to her four best friends. Ronnie rang the bell for her to come one day; the horses were saddled and ready to go. She ignored him. He went to the house and a bit later, one of the techs reported trouble on a line. He was allowed in to see about it and came out carrying a smashed phone. Reagan had a temper.

But underlying these gauzy bits of fluff is the author's insistence that the Secret Service management is a group of dinosauers who still believe only in the one assassin attack; completely ignoring reports of well-heeled terrorist groups. Kessler contends (from agent reports) that the agents are spread too thin, worked too hard -- 18 hour days are not unusual -- and angry about it. The Old Boys refuse to up requests for more funding, preferring a blind "can do" attitude to reality. At a time when (according to the author) threats against Obama are up 400% over those to former President George W. Bush... this seems an invitation to disaster.

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