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The secret service scandal — understandable but not acceptable

The Washington Post reports that some of the Secret Service employees accused of misconduct in the Colombian prostitution scandal are privately contending that their conduct didn’t warrant dismissal because senior managers tolerated similar behavior during official trips. In addition, according to the Post, several of the men who agreed to resign under pressure last week are considering reversing their decisions and fighting to keep their jobs.

I don’t wish to put up any strong defense of the Secret Service employees in question, or to argue that they should not be sacked. But I don’t believe we should be very surprised by the misconduct of agents who put their life on the line to protect the president and his family against danger from sources that may not reveal themselves until the last second. There may be a more stressful job, but I can’t think of one.

Given the stress inherent in this work, it is normal that more than a few agents blow off steam by drinking, carousing, and in some cases whoring. This doesn’t mean that those who engage in the latter activity shouldn’t be fired; a job like this should be reserved for those who can transcend “normal.” But one might still have sympathy for the agents who failed to do so.

And one might hope for a more thoughtful response to this affair than that offered by President Obama:

The Secret Service, these guys are incredible. They protect me, they protect our girls. A couple of knuckleheads shouldn’t detract from what they do. What they were thinking, I don’t know. That’s why they’re not there anymore.

It wasn’t just “a couple;” nor are they really “knuckleheads” – just all-too-human. And the incredible work they perform may help explain why they behaved so recklessly and irresponsibly.

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