And all of a sudden, people are going bananas about the inconveniences and unpleasantnesses of airport security. Why? Well, yes, it appears the Transportation Safety Administration has tightened up its procedures, including pat-downs. And it has, in recent months, stepped up its testing of full-body scanners — which are extremely inconvenient devices, because they don’t work very well yet. But while no one should doubt the sincerity of people’s anger and disgust, I think something else is going on here.
It may be that the TSA story has taken on a life of its own because Obama and the Democrats have refused to hear the very plain message coming from the November election — as the failure to depose Nancy Pelosi last week and the president’s gobsmacking declaration to people who had volunteered in the November election debacle that they had converted “Yes, we can” into “Yes, we did” suggest.
The message of the election was: No, stop, enough. The federal government has gotten too big, is doing too much, and may be acting in ways that are impinging on our freedoms. Through a coincidence unfortunate for the Obama administration’s political future, it just so happens that the same month in which the public was explaining this to the political class, the terror threat rose, and the TSA instituted tougher measures to counter it. And where do people outside Washington encounter the federal government directly? At the airport.
I do not share the negative emotions here. I have been through both a pat-down and full-body screen (twice in the latter case), and found them both deeply annoying. But it was nothing personal. It seemed to me that the TSA employees were just doing their jobs, and they are tough jobs, especially since some members of the inconvenienced traveling public blame them unfairly for the inconvenience.
That is exactly what the Obama people seem to have expected when they tightened things without telling anybody — that nobody would take it personally, that it would all be understood as part of the public interest. And who knows — under other conditions, that expectation might well have been met. But the libertarian outrage expressed by the electorate on November 2 seems not to have made a dent in the way the Democratic leadership is pursuing power or handling itself, and so the TSA has been left wide open and exposed to a pretty thoroughgoing and unpleasant public pat-down of its own.
When populist issues bubble up and take government officials by surprise, it’s often a sign of how profoundly out of touch the politicians and the people who work for them are getting. It happens to every administration. Reagan had Bitburg in 1985; Bush the Elder had his note card reading, “Message: I Care“; Bill Clinton had midnight basketball; George W. Bush had Dubai Ports World. What happens when these things blow up is that the government is so busy talking to itself and concerning itself with its own internal deliberations on policy that it forgets how these things might look or be experienced outside the executive branch.
They lose the benefit of the doubt. And once that is lost, it’s very hard to get back.