Lessons of the Weekend 

Lessons of the Weekend

On the same weekend that 16 brave young Americans lost their lives when their helicopter was blown from the Iraqi sky by guerrillas, their Commander in Chief had his own scare.

Betina Mixon, the young mother who on Saturday rammed her car into a wall of the DeSoto County Civic Center in Southaven, not far from where the presidential limousine was preparing to depart, is clearly no guerrilla. In fact, the mortified family members and friends who huddled around the DeSoto County jail following her arrest made it clear that Mixon had no political agenda at all and, in fact, no politics to speak of. She was apparently not even registered to vote.

Mixon was revealed to have experienced more than her share of recent domestic turbulence -- including her father's death, her brother's hospitalization, and what her kindred proclaimed to be stormy relations with her husband. Though her motives may never be totally unraveled, Mixon seemed clearly not to be angry at President Bush, who was in Southaven to address a Republican Party rally on behalf of Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour.

The fact remains that, in an age in which car bombs are virtually a weapon of choice for political terrorists, the woman got close enough to the departing president to have put him in serious jeopardy. Recent concerns about possible lapses in (or distortions of) political/military intelligence abroad should not obscure obvious lapses in security precautions at home and the grave threat they present to public officials.

Sometimes literal facts are perfect metaphors in themselves. What this incident showed us is that there are still holes in our national security apparatus big enough to -- well, big enough to drive a car through.

We are glad that President Bush was not endangered, but we are glad, too, that he was able to observe this problem firsthand. It is no secret that budget reductions have caused a drastic curtailing of previously intended Homeland Security measures, and the next time the president is moved to advocate a fresh round of tax cuts he might ponder some of the potential consequences.

But, while federal attention to security precautions is certainly called for, we are more dubious about the potential for federal intervention on another score also brought to the fore by the Mixon matter. Those reporters who worked the story over the weekend know that seemingly definitive word got out from the Secret Service as to what would prove to be the ultimate state charge against Mixon (aggravated assault on a law-enforcement officer, two counts) a day before any such charge was decided on by the Mississippi district attorney in charge of the case. Later, local officials would acknowledge "consulting" with the feds on the matter.

There are several ways to look at that. Close cooperation between levels of law enforcement is one thing. Dictation from above is another. We are not in a position to judge what was what in this case, but at a time when the Justice Department's prerogatives under the Patriot Act have aroused concern at both ends of the political spectrum, we would suggest that observing normal jurisdictional boundaries should be a given in relations between agencies.

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