Personally, I think the controversy is overdone. I don't love the policy, but the outrage seems a bit misplaced. I'd bet that the vast majority of TSA employees do not want to touch your junk -- or mine. And if any TSA agent gives the slightest indication that junk-touching is his or her favorite part of the job, he or she should lose their job immediately.
Obviously, the first people to blame for this mess are the murderers. Without them, flying wouldn't be the soul-killing experience it is.
But we're partially to blame, too. Politicians are torn between two legitimate impulses: to protect us from very real dangers as best they can, and to be liked by us. Unfortunately, these impulses often conflict. If we weren't in danger, we wouldn't need airport screening, electronic or otherwise. The black forest cake deliveryman on his way to grandma's for Oktoberfest in Orlando would have neither his cake nor his Schwarzwälderkirschtortenlieferantenhut searched, never mind the inseam of his lederhosen.
But the murderers won't comply, so we need to search people. The electronic scanners were intended to make such searchers as tolerable as possible.
Of course, there are better ways to screen people, but privacy activists on the left and right claim it's better to inconvenience everyone than single out anyone. For them, profiling passengers is Germanic not in the goofy etymological sense but in the 1930s Gestapo sense.
That's why I have some sympathy for the Obama administration. The president was just shellacked at the polls because many Americans feel the government is too big, too intrusive and too incompetent. The rubber-gloved hand of Leviathan groping our junk is a pretty apt symbol of that mood. The problem for the White House is they not only lack Fingerspitzengefühl, they actually have a thumbless grasp of the national mood.
But Obama is not to blame. Osama bin Laden is. No doubt he is overcome with schadenfreude when he reads that American travelers are overcome with weltschmerz. My only hope is that enough Americans will realize there's got to be a better way, and the next Congress will serve as a Verbesserungsvorschlagsversammlung to figure out how to keep us safe while denying government agents a Fingerspitzengefühl of our junk.
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