The leftist narrative during the Bush years held that civil rights were rapidly sublimating under the heat of post-9.11 measures such as the Patriot Act. Listening to Keith Olbermann and like-minded commentators in those dark days, we were all Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, subject to rendition and waterboarding at the whim of a despotic Vice President Cheney.
According to this history, President Obama and large Democratic congressional majorities were elected to change course, guiding the Republic back to the sunlit uplands where privacy and personal freedom would once again be safe from erosion by a hyperactive national security apparatus. The closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo, repeal of the Patriot Act, end of Predator drone assassinations and successful resolution of the war in Afghanistan made good on the Democrats’ promises, ushering in a new era of enhanced civil liberties at home and. . . wait a minute—none of this actually happened.
Instead of enhanced civil liberties we have the opposite, thanks in this case to the ineluctable logic of Security Theater, where the answer to each incremental threat is another intrusive mass-screening program. And every other consideration—effectiveness, cost-benefit analysis and personal freedom—must give way in favor of the appearance of doing something.
A gun is used to hijack a plane? Bring on the magnetometer. C4-enhanced lingerie? Time for full body scans for millions of travelers. Don’t worry, the image of your unclothed body will only be seen by government employees, and the x-ray dose is minimal. Sheesh, it’s not like the TSA is digging through your library receipts. And since this is America, you always have the right to object to the scan and select the infinitely more personal Groin Grope. But don’t decide to forgo both the ionizing photo and the tactile perineal exam in favor of going home or, as John Tyner is discovering, you may be fined and prosecuted.
How do my fellow Ricochetans reconcile the Obama administration’s airport body scanning policy with its earlier civil libertarian rhetoric and the inconvenient truth of an intentionally wide-open southern border? And is this the beginning of a real backlash or just a blip on the radar?