Okay... so where were we?
I've been sort of chomping at the bit to comment on various stories - Ann Romney, George Zimmerman, you name it - but nothing is quite as captivating as the scandalous non-scandal of The Secret Service in Cartagena, now, is it? (And really... Cartagena? Other than Romancing The Stone... who's ever cared about Cartagena?)
My raction to the Secret Service story hasn't changed much since it broke: so... apparently after work the agents like to drink, carouse a bit, and maybe pick up a local resident for some R&R. And that's bad... why?
I'm not trying to excuse hooking, but in my own curiously twisted thinking on sex and sexuality, it's not people paying for sex that bothers me. What bothered me, say, about the Elliot Spitzer scandal, and made it scandalous, was both the outrageous prices he paid (which was simply foolish) and the fact that being Attorney General means enforcing the laws he was breaking at that time. That's hypocrisy, and that, it strikes me, is scandalous.
(Also, going to prostitutes while married strikes me as tacky and poor moral character, but that's a separate issue.)
So here's my thing: if the Secret Service agents were, say, using counterfeit money to pay hookers... then maybe we'd have a similar case; but drinking in bars and bringing someone home for sex doesn't strike, entirely, as a firing offense. Again, tacky, perhaps; but not quite the federal crime it's being made out to be. Indeed, I'll be curious to see if some of these attempts to discipline Secret Service employees stand up as proper for a federal employer. Is off hour behavior really fair game for the government as an employer?
In any case, there's been a lot of huffing and puffing to try and dress up what is basically a salacious exercise in peeking behind other people's bedroom curtains as somehow a major breach of national security. You can almost see the visible relief of many media organizations reporting today's triumph "hooker may have been in President's hotel!" That's, you know, serious. It's almost like, you know, she was in the President's room. Except, you know, she wasn't.
All the heavy breathing doesn't amount to much, and can't really make the agent's behavior seem much more than what it is - tawdry, mostly, with a side order of tasteless. The idea that patronizing hookers might "lead to blackmail" is an old saw that was always meant to comment more on sexual behavior than any actual threat - it's the same nonsense that was trotted out about gays during the Red Scare years, and just as dopey. It's a suggestion that sex is dirty, embarrassing, and rather than be humiliated for a peccadillo, most people would, I don't know, pay thousands and reveal state secrets. Evidence of this actually happening isn't just mostly scarce... it's basically nonexistent. It's the stuff of movie plots and bad novels one buys in airports.
More to the point, these ideas of salacious blackmail seem especially absurd in this era where people's nude photos wind up on internet websites. Shocking? Embarrassing? Does anyone even know what these words mean anymore? The small number of people actually "shocked" to discover that Secret Service agents hire hookers lead especially sheltered lives and are, in general, awfully naive (almost as naive as the people who seem to think this only happened, once, in Cartagena). There's nothing especially shocking, or possibly even embarrassing about the President's guards getting randy after hours in a foreign country. The trope that this "could lead to national security breaches" is pretty much nonsense, and most sensible people, I suspect, get that, even if they hate to admit it. Because once you admit it... then we also have to admit that this story is getting way more play than it ever deserved.
I don't think, as Americans, we'll ever get over our nosiness, our voyeuristic tendencies, or our confused notions about sex generally. That's our culture, and that's how we define who we are - simultaneously wildly open and free, and puritanical and judge-y, all at once. By all means, go overseas and go wild with the foreigners. Just don't get caught. Or we'll really be mad. And if it helps us to pretend that somehow this is crucial to our "national interests", it's just a reminder of the lengths we go to when we need to justify our prejudices. Mostly, I suspect, the excessive interest in this story is about envy. And that's never pretty. And we're lousy at hiding it.