Ronald Kessler reporting from Washington, D.C.
— Democrats profess to be for uplifting the downtrodden. But as Current TV’s firing of left-leaning Keith Olbermann demonstrates, when it comes to treating the less fortunate with respect, Democrats may be the worst offenders.
Among the complaints by Al Gore’s Current TV was that the anchor went through eight different car pick-up services, often complaining that the drivers “smelled” or that they “talked to him.”
As outlined in my book “In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect,”
Democratic presidents who claim like Olbermann to be for the little guy often are the nastiest with staff and Secret Service agents. Jimmy Carter — codenamed Deacon — was a prime example.
“When Carter first came there, he didn’t want the police officers and agents looking at him or speaking to him when he went to the office,” says Nelson Pierce, an assistant White House usher. “He didn’t want them to pay attention to him going by. I never could understand why. He was not going to the Oval Office without shoes or a robe.”
“We never spoke unless spoken to,” says Fred Walzel, who was chief of the White House branch of the Secret Service Uniformed Division. “Carter complained that he didn’t want them [the officers] to say hello.”
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For three and a half years, agent John Piasecky was on Carter’s detail — including seven months of driving him in the presidential limousine — and Carter never spoke to him, he says. At the same time, Carter tried to project an image of himself as a man of the people by carrying his own luggage when traveling. But that was often for show. When he was a candidate in 1976, Carter would carry his own bags when the press was around but ask the Secret Service to carry them the rest of the time.
“Carter would have us carry his luggage from the trunk to the airport,” says former Secret Service agent John F. Collins. “But that is not our job, and we finally stopped doing it.” On one occasion, says Collins, “We opened the trunk and shut it, leaving his luggage in the trunk. He was without clothes for two days.”
As president, Carter engaged in more ruses involving his luggage.
“When he was traveling, he would get on the helicopter and fly to Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base,” says former Secret Service agent Clifford R. Baranowski. “He would roll up his sleeves and carry his bag over his shoulder, but it was empty. He wanted people to think he was carrying his own bag.”
Behind the scenes, Lyndon Johnson was equally nasty to staff and Secret Service agents. Former agent Charles “Chuck” Taylor recalls driving Johnson, who was then vice president, with another agent from the U.S. Capitol to the White House for a 4 p.m. appointment with President Kennedy. Johnson — codenamed Volunteer — was not ready to leave until 3:45 p.m. Because of traffic along Pennsylvania Avenue, they were going to be late.
“Johnson said to jump the curb and drive on the sidewalk,” Taylor says. “There were people on the sidewalk getting out of work. I told him, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I told you to jump the curb.’ He took a newspaper and hit the other agent, who was driving, on the head.
He said, ‘You’re both fired.’”
When they arrived at the White House, Taylor told Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy’s secretary, “I’ve been fired.”
Lincoln shook her head. Taylor was not fired.
As president, Johnson’s outbursts often took place on Air Force One.
“We were serving roast beef one time,” says Robert M. MacMillan, an Air Force One steward. “He [Johnson] came back in the cabin. Jack Valenti [Johnson’s aide] was sitting there. He had just gotten his dinner tray. On it was a beautiful slice of rare roast beef.”
Johnson grabbed the tray and said, “You dumb son of a bitch. You are eating raw meat.”
Johnson then brought the food back to the galley and said, “You two sons of bitches, look at this. This is raw. You gotta cook the meat on my airplane. Don’t you serve my people raw meat. Goddamn, if you two boys serve raw meat on my airplane again, you’ll both end up in Vietnam.”
Johnson threw the tray upside down on the floor and stormed off.
A few minutes later, Valenti went back to the galley.
“Sorry about your dinner, Mr. Valenti,” MacMillan said.
“Do we have any more rare?” Valenti asked.
“We have plenty of rare,” MacMillan said.
“Well, he won’t be back. He’s done his thing. Don't serve me any fully cooked meat.”
Gerald F. Pisha, another Air Force One steward, says that on one occasion when Johnson didn’t like the way a steward had mixed a drink for him, he threw it on the floor.
“Get somebody who knows how to make a drink for me,” Johnson said.
Agents found Bill Clinton’s vice president Al Gore — codenamed Sundance — to be cut from the same cloth. Every agent has heard that when Gore was bawling out his son Al Gore III over poor performance at school, he warned him, “If you don’t straighten up, you won’t get into the right schools, and if you don’t get into the right schools, you could end up like these guys.”
Gore motioned toward the agents protecting him.
“Sometimes Gore would come out of the residence, get in the car, and he wouldn’t even give the guys the coachman’s nod. Nothing,” former agent William Albracht says. “It was like we didn’t exist. We were only there to facilitate him to get from point A to point B.” As professionals, Albracht says, “We do not have to like you to protect you, but it can make the long hours a bit more tolerable.”
To be sure, examples can be found in the opposite direction. Agents say both Barack Obama — codenamed Renegade — and Michelle Obama treat them with respect.
“Twice Obama invited agents to dinner, including a party for a relative, both at his home,” says an agent who was on his candidate detail. Michelle Obama insists that agents call her by her first name.
Obama makes an effort to be on time and usually is. If Obama is running late, Michelle gets on his case, saying he is being inconsiderate of his agents.
But when it comes to treating the little people with respect, Republicans like Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush tend to outnumber Democrats.
“Carter came into the cockpit once in the two years I was on with him,” says James A. Buzzelli, an Air Force One flight engineer. “But [Ronald] Reagan never got on or off without sticking his head in the cockpit and saying, ‘Thanks, fellas,’ or ‘Have a nice day.’ He [Reagan] was just as personable in person as he came across to the public.”
Neither party has a corner on decency. But given that Democrats claim to be champions of the little people, when their actions demonstrate hypocrisy, it is worthy of note.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of books on the Secret Service, FBI, and CIA. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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