The other morning, I was walking by the entrance to the Veterans Affairs Department and in walked Sec. Eric Shinseki, accompanied by a burly bodyguard, having exited his chauffeur-driven car. Early today, on the other hand, I saw Warren Buffett hop out of a cab near the White House, without any entourage at all; and I didn’t even see Buffett at first — instead, the two Hispanic construction workers ahead of me saw him first, and one said to the other, in Spanish, something to the effect of “Hey! That’s Warren Buffett!”
If the third wealthiest man in the world, whom even peasant laborers from Latin America instantly recognize, can go about his business without hangers-on or praetorians, then why does Shinseki need muscle following him around? A cabinet official almost no one has heard of, whom even fewer people could recognize, who could probably wander around Kandahar, let alone D.C., without anyone bothering with him, heading an agency which, as important as it is to our veterans, has absolutely no geopolitical relevance — this man has a bodyguard purely as a status symbol. I don’t mean to pick on Shinseki or even the current administration — I’m sure Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development (whoever that was) was also shadowed by a stout man with a bulge in his jacket. As vain and silly as it is, status competition is inevitable in any society, but the fact that security has become a forum for such competition has an anti-republican smell to it.