• With: Dorothy Rabinowitz, James Freeman, Dan Henninger, Alyssia Finley

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," April 21, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," government gone wild. What Secret Service and GSA scandals say about Washington culture and what it could mean for the president's re-election bid.

    Plus, the left plays the race card to silence a free-market policy voice. Will they get away with it?

    And the Tea Party is put to the test in a hot contested Senate primary. Can they defeat a political giant?

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul gigot.

    Another week, another government scandal. This time it's the Secret Service reeling from allegations that as many as 11 agents entertained prostitutes at a Colombian hotel in advance of President Obama's visit there. The situation has become an election-year embarrassment and follows the revelations that the General Services Administration followed a junket to Las Vegas in 2010 that cost taxpayers close to a million dollars. Both scandals play into the narrative of a bloated and dysfunctional federal government. So, is that fair?

    Let's ask the Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and editorial board member, Dorothy Rabinowitz.

    Dorothy, let's start with the Secret Service. Incompetence in government is not new. It's an old story. So why does the Secret Service scandal trouble you?

    DOROTHY RABINOWITZ, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, if it's troubling, it's fascinating. And it's not incompetence, it's a loss of the mystique of many of the important things that were connected with governance itself, with the White House and everything that we used on the face of the security detail, the -- these guys with the (INAUDIBLE) hats who were the heroes.


    GIGOT: You mean, they were -- the sense they were an elite force.

    RABINOWITZ: They were the untouchables. They were the people you thought you might want to be if you're lucky. And suddenly, they're not the buttoned-down guy. These were a battalion's worth, not just two people, floating around and drinking Absolute vodka with women they didn't know, prostitutes, and cheating with prostitutes with money. These are not minor matters. They're not Richard Gere, treating the prostitute in "Pretty Woman."

    GIGOT: And bringing them into a security perimeter, it would seem from the reporting. We think of the Secret Service guys, the guys will take a bullet for the president, and some of them have. I think of Tim McCarthy and getting shot along with President Reagan.


    GIGOT: President Reagan.

    FREEMAN: Yes. Now, we think of them as an elite unit. And keeping them it in perspective, I'm not sure it's the first time an elite American unit has advanced on a bordello at full team strength.


    But I think the fact that, as you said, this is during the mission and the president's itinerary is kind of lying around while they're engaging in this. I think shocking for people who often look at groups like the Secret Service, like elite military units, as the part of the department that works. It's the fact that this is --


    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: It's not just a matter of personal security. It's an issue of national security here. What if this happened, say, in Moscow or Beijing or in South Korea? We have enemies out there who are trying to compromise people who are close to the president like this.

    GIGOT: Open themselves up to bribes.

    HENNINGER: Absolutely.

    GIGOT: Yes.

    What does this tell us about the culture, Dan, of the Secret Service? Anything? Do you think it's fair to ask whether this happened once or is it hard to believe that it happened only once?

    HENNINGER: It is hard to believe. I think there really should be a serious investigation. It incomprehensible you could have this kind of breakdown in discipline among an elite corps like this. And I must say it does raise the question of whether Mark Sullivan should be sacked or actually --


    GIGOT: As the head of the Secret Service.

    HENNINGER: As the head of the Secret Service.

    RABINOWITZ: I don't want to go back too far in history, but I think this had a beginning a long while ago. The first night Clinton spent the night in the White House, their guests were jumping up and down on the Lincoln bed. This is a kind of sign, a cultural sign --

    GIGOT: How does this have anything to do with this --


    RABINOWITZ: Wait. Because the sense that there's no longer any importance attached to the role of people serving government, in government. There's a freedom from convention, a sense of freedom of sanctity about things attached to the service of government.

    GIGOT: All right. Moving on to the General Services Administration, a million bucks for a party. It's a lot of money for a party. It's not a lot of money for Washington.


    FREEMAN: In government terms, it's a coverage charge --


    GIGOT: Why are people so upset about this?

    FREEMAN: Well, I think -- I think our colleague Peggy Noonan hit it on the head this week saying this is not a surprise they're wasting money, but it's the way they're throwing our money away and laughing about it. I worked brief in government and, I've got to say, there were a lot of people I disagreed with on policy terms, but my impression was that they were generally public-spirited people, trying to make America a better place. And what you see in this GSA adventure is it seems to be people are enjoying living high on the hog and amused by it.

    GIGOT: A sense of invulnerability. The videos show, look, I'm in government, and I'm living high on the hog, and you sad taxpayers can't do anything about it, so there.