Obama's Speech - small crowd , mega security

Barack Obama’s speech to Congress this evening had been declared a National Special Security Event, just like at least one Super Bowl.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Tuesday morning that the Secret Service has been given the assignment of coordinating a massive security effort, the kind of that is usually rolled out for events involving large crowds. In addition to the 2002 Super Bowl, other events getting this special security treatment include the 2009 Presidential Inauguration and the 2008 Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

A Secret Service spokesman notes that only the 2002 Super Bowl got full National Special Security Event (NSSE) treatment. For other Super Bowls, the Secret Service helps with credentials and other unspecified security issues. The Salt Lake City Olympics also got full NSSE treatment, the Secret Service says.

A small crowd with clout

What Tuesday night's crowd lacks in size, it will make up for in political clout. If every member of the House of Representatives and US Senate were to show up, that would only be 535 individuals. Also attending will be a handful of the nine members of the Supreme Court, assorted diplomats, and members of his Cabinet. Since the President, Vice President, and Speaker of the House all will be present, one member of the Cabinet will stay away from the event so he or she could serve as President in case of disaster.

What is it like inside a Special Security Event? Several years ago, I was part of the press pool that accompanied President George W. Bush to deliver his State of the Union address and got to ride in the presidential motorcade to Capitol Hill. Washington that night felt like an armed camp. Buses ringed the Capitol building, police cars blocked every intersection as we whizzed through, helicopters buzzed overhead, and when the presidential motorcade pulled onto Capitol Hill, a portable chemical decontamination facility had been set up in the parking area.

Watching the streets and the skies

Security is likely to be even tighter tonight. Participants in the security effort tonight will include the U.S. Capitol Police, the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, and various Pentagon elements including the North American Aerospace Defense Command and the United States Northern Command.

In his first speech to a joint session of Congress, President Obama will try to reassure Americans as the country goes through its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Some critics say that in his public remarks so far President Obama has put too much emphasis on the severity of the nation’s economic woes and not provided enough reassurance.

More blunt talk

Speaking on MSNBC today, David Axelrod, a top Obama adviser on communications, defended the President. “ The president has the theory that you treat Americans like adults and tell them where we are and where we need to go,” Axelrod said.

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