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The TSA, the Right, and My Busted Watch

The TSA, the Right, and My Busted Watch

Friday 26 November 2010

by: William Rivers Pitt,

t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Canned Muffins, ralphbod)

For the last several days, I have been trying to locate what would appear to be the appropriate and necessary level of angst and fury over the issue of heavy-handed TSA searches at American airports. I say "appropriate and necessary" because, well, all the noise surrounding the matter seems to suggest I have no alternative other than outrage, and if I fail to react that way, I am some sort of dupe, a fool who doesn't understand the Constitutional issues at hand or the dangers represented by what has been described as a glaring governmental over-reach.

Interestingly enough, this opinion is being clarioned from the far reaches of both sides of the left-right spectrum. The electronic left - blogs, online news and commentary sites (like Truthout) and message boards - is up in arms over the violations they see involved in the TSA screening process. On the right, the hue and cry is at an equal, if not higher decibel. For their part, the "mainstream" media is giving as much play as possible to the angry voices being raised against President Obama and the TSA.

I lack the required level of outrage over this because, quite simply, I don't know how to feel about it. Do I like the idea of going through a machine without knowing what the health affects will be? No. Do I understand those who find the idea of having TSA employees looking at translucently revealing images of them to be out of bounds? Certainly. Would I myself like to endure the hard-core groping that is the alternative to going through the screening machine? No. Do I think the penalties threatened against those who refuse to comply to be too severe? Indeed.


Not so long ago, a man did actually attempt to blow up an airplane with a device hidden in his underwear. Just a few short weeks ago, the entire airline industry was thrown into panicked high-alert because of suspicious packages that were either a deliberate attempt to take down planes, or a test of the security measures that defend against such attempts, or both. Recent reports have terrorist elements openly stating their new plan is to shun large, spectacular attacks in favor of smaller actions aimed at disrupting the American economy, and anyone with brain one in their head knows the holiday season is the femoral artery of the American economy. Jab that enough, especially during the heavy-traffic travel season we have entered, and the whole thing will quickly bleed to death right before our eyes.


Do I like the idea of getting blown sideways out of an airliner at 38,000 feet by some brain-damaged zealot with a knot of C-4 nestled beneath his scrotum? As I plummet screaming from the blot of smoke that used to be a 727, will I find serenity in my final moments because I know the guy who killed me didn't have his rights violated by the gendarmes of the TSA? No and no. Do I think there are enough credible dangers out there to justify heightened security measures, especially during the holiday season? I'm leaning towards yes, and if that amounts to political heresy, so be it.

What I do know is that the leading voices of outrage over this issue are the likes of Charles Krauthammer of the Post, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee, incoming House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica (R-FL), a bunch of rabid right-wing websites which are also leading the "Obama is not a citizen" birther charge, and a "mainstream" media that continues to push messages that auger inexorably toward the claim that the "Tea Party" is right about everything even remotely related to government.

That is not the kind of company I like to keep, and it gives me great pause about jumping on the TSA-outrage bandwagon. I mean, sure, I have a busted watch at home that's right twice a day, so it's possible these far-right mouthpieces may have stumbled onto some truth for a change. But the fact that the attacks against Obama and the TSA happen to be coming from the same people who have made a cottage industry out of claiming Obama is a secret terrorist who wants to bring Sharia law to America, yet who are now saying he has gone too far in defending the nation from terrorism, even in the face of credible threats to the airline industry, leads me to suspect there is a different game afoot.

Consider the commentary offered on Wednesday by the New York Times on the issue:

The latest controversy to envelop the Obama administration is only partly about the specific rules governing body scanners and pat-downs. It has to do, too, with the federal agency Congress created to deal with airline security and the tension that has been building for years between its latex-gloved employees and the traveling public.

In this way, the "Don't touch my junk" fiasco raises, yet again, what has become the central theme of Mr. Obama's presidency: America's faltering confidence in the ability of government to make things work. From stimulus spending and the health care law to the federal response to oil in the Gulf of Mexico, Mr. Obama has continually stumbled - blindly, it seems - into some version of the same debate, which is about whether we can trust federal bureaucracies to expand their reach without harming citizens or industry.

(Emphasis added)

Perfect. Right from the jump, the article highlights Krauthammer's "Don't touch my junk" article, which was pretty much the genesis of the public hollering over TSA screening procedures. It goes from there to underlining the "mainstream" media's favorite theme from 2010: government is inept. In essence, what we have here is one more instance of the media reinforcing the theme they hammered home over the last year through their cheerful re-branding of the GOP base into the "Tea Party." Government is wrong, government is bad, and from there it is an easy leap to "The Tea Party was right all along."

Bank on this: if the year was 2002, and President Bush declared these TSA measures to be absolutely necessary to the security of the nation, the same right-bent people currently screaming about the heavy-handed Obama TSA policy would be defending those exact same policies to the teeth, with the "mainstream" media right with them all the way down the party line. For the right, this is opposition simply for the sake of opposition itself, and thanks to the media, they have once again managed to shoehorn another "Government sucks" screaming match to the forefront of the national conversation.

Nothing from the "mainstream" media about how the GOP is scuttling the all-important START treaty for no other reason than the fact that a Democrat is in the White House. Nothing from the "mainstream" media about how the GOP is letting unemployment benefits for millions of Americans lapse for no other reason than the fact that there is a Democrat in the White House. Nothing about how 71% of air travelers, like me, do not appear able to work themselves into the seemingly-required media-driven froth over the issue. That's no fun to report on. And it's awfully, awfully convenient that, instead, we have yet another circus inspired by the always-effective loudspeakers of the right.

Awfully convenient, indeed.

Like I said, I have this busted watch that's right twice a day, so it is possible those on the right who are making a massive issue out of this situation, those who find themselves in agreement, and those in the "mainstream" media who have been pushing this story with all their might, have a legitimate point. Those who say these measures are necessary likewise have a point.

One thing is certain: there are tens of millions of Americans who don't give a single damn about the issue of TSA screening, because they are broke and unemployed and getting foreclosed on, which means they can't afford to fly. They have bigger things to worry about. So, I suspect, do we all.

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.


William Rivers Pitt is a Truthout editor and columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.

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