As the GOP presidential primaries have winnowed down a large field of candidates to a remaining quartet, those who are now seriously vying for the White House have earned one of the exclusive benefits of being a prominent member of the political elite -- protection from the Secret Service. And everyone gets a cool nickname! Mitt Romney goes by "Javelin," a reference to the AMC Javelin manufactured by his father's former company, American Motors Corporation. Rick Santorum opted for "Petrus," a name steeped in religious overtones. Newt Gingrich's nickname has not yet been made public, but hopefully it's "Moonraker." Had Rick Perry made it this far, I'm almost certain he would be known as "Hasselhoff."
Ron Paul says that if he had to have a Secret Service nickname, he'd be known as "Bulldog." But if he really had his way, he wouldn't have Secret Service protection as president at all. Why? Well, as Elise Foley reported earlier Wednesday, it's because Secret Service protection just doesn't fit within his libertarian worldview:
Paul, the only candidate without Secret Service protection, said having that security would be a "form of welfare."
"You know, you're having the taxpayers pay to take care of somebody," he told Leno. "I'm an ordinary citizen and I would think I should pay for my own protection."
Okay, Ron Paul! Surely free market forces should dictate whether or not presidents of the United States are kidnapped or murdered. Did the framers of the Constitution imagine that Big Government would position itself between a head of state and a hail of assassin's bullets? Actually, they didn't. The legislation that created the Secret Service wasn't signed into law until April 14, 1865. It was signed by then-President Abraham Lincoln, as one of the important things he had to tend to that day before going off to Ford's Theater later that night.
It's because of this sort of historical irony -- and by irony, I basically mean an iron anvil sent from the skies to land on our heads in order to alert us to the obvious lesson -- that a president without Secret Service protection is a pretty odd thing to imagine. But Paul is kind of right about this. Secret Service protection is a welfare program, in that it essentially protects all of us from widespread, violent mayhem directed at our head of state and the chaos that would ensue if our president was left to his or her own devices to guard against harm or abduction.
Do we really want a president who has to either arm himself or else surround himself with some posse of privately compensated security retinue, loyal only to market forces? It surely doesn't seem wise to send some sketchy, wall-eyed gang of toughs into the streets every time the president wants to walk down to Quiznos. (Also, I think that one of the Secret Service's tertiary duties is to protect the president from Quiznos?) And while one can pick through the past and identify a couple of Commanders-In-Chief who could likely handle a firearm (Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower come to mind), the typical candidate for president is either a crotchety septuagenarian or a slim and tender gentleman from the Ivy League. I don't know about you, but that's two demographics I'm quite happy to keep removed from the artillery.
And it's worth pointing out that should Ron Paul become president, he wouldn't really have a say in the matter. He'll be guarded by the Secret Service, like it or not, because this protection protects all of us. So, President Paul will not have to pull himself up by his bootstraps to stay safe. Though I'm quite sure he would wield those bootstraps like a ninja.
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