Critics from across the political spectrum have recently turned their ire against the Transportation Security Administration. Its use of full body scanners (labeled by its detractors a cancer-causing “porno-scanner”) and enhanced pat-downs (“gropings”) has been panned by commentators of all political stripes. A headline on the conservative website redstate.com shouts, “TSA Agent Molests Three-Year-Old,” while decrying pat-downs as “TSA prostate exams.” The liberal-leaning site Wonkette has posted a logo featuring the Internet meme Pedobear that rebrands the TSA a division of the “U.S. Department of Molestation.” The rallying cry of the day is “don’t touch my junk!”
This is the rallying cry that columnist Charles Krauthammer has declared, without a hint of irony, “the anthem of the modern man.” Going on to smear the TSA’s new search procedures as the latest tyranny of “big bro’,” Krauthammer hails the actions of John Tyner, the southern California libertarian who threatened to have the Transportation Security officer charged with patting him down arrested. When told that a pat-down didn’t constitute sexual assault, Tyner raised his voice and asserted to the officer that “it would be if you weren’t the government.”
But Tyner, Krauthammer and other pundits fail to make an important distinction, and in doing so, do more harm than good to advance the political dialogue. In their eyes, a TSO is simply “the government,” or, as Krauthammer wrote, an “airport security goon,” a faceless thug roughing travelers up as he sees fit. It doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that a given TSO is just some guy doing his job.
“Molester, pervert, disgusting, an embarrassment, creep. These are all words I have heard today at work describing me,” reported one TSO to Steven Frischling, a blogger with connections to the airline industry. One TSO who identifies as Jewish reports being called a Nazi, and a veteran of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan speaks of being worn down by passengers addressing him with “hateful comments.” Another put his position more brusquely: “I am a professional doing my job, whether I agree with this current policy or not. I do not want to be here all day touching penises.”
The American punditry and public seem to have forgotten that, as one TSO put it, “It is not up to me to decide policy.” It’s perfectly acceptable to disagree with the terrible result of a governmental office’s bureaucracy, and anyone who feels wronged should take the time to file a complaint with the TSA and contact their representatives to support legislative action to end the security theater. It is in the public interest to address such blatant violations of our privacy by filing a lawsuit, as the Electronic Privacy Information Center did, alleging violations of several laws and the Fourth Amendment and seeking to have the scanners removed, and it would be perfectly acceptable for any citizen who has had their rights violated to join them.
It’s ignorant and uncalled for, however, to suggest that that same product of bureaucracy is Barack Obama’s doing or to accuse TSOs of being sexual assailants and child molesters. It solves nothing to call for Americans to “opt out” of the scans, a move that would have delayed thousands of Thanksgiving travelers and perhaps even caused people to miss their flights. It makes no sense to demonize people doing their jobs and to make their lives difficult out of spite for the policies they have to uphold.
If we’re serious about not being treated like prisoners every time we get on an airplane and stopping the inefficient and perhaps illegal security measures that have yet to show any positive results, let’s take the high road. If we want to be heard in a meaningful way, we have to start by being civil.
Jack Newsham is a freshman in Morse College.