‘Security theater’ at airports pointless and un-American 

Two news items last week put the problems with the federal Transportation Security Administration in stark relief. First was the viral video of a 6-year-old’s recent encounter with a pat-down search in New Orleans.

Then on Friday, CNN revealed a list of “behavioral indicators” TSA uses to scope out travelers who deserve extra manhandling. Among the agency’s red flags are “arrogant” expressions of “contempt against airport passenger procedures.”  

Because, clearly, making a scene on the airport security line is sound strategy for anyone trying to sneak a bomb onto a plane.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “American exceptionalism.” I’ve always thought that what makes Americans exceptional is our ornery resistance to being bossed around. But how long can that spirit survive the demands of modern “homeland security?”  



Some people see America’s uniqueness as an excuse to bomb any country that looks at us crosswise. But the original idea was somewhat less aggressive. With “every spot of the old world ... overrun with
oppression,” America would be freedom’s home — an “asylum for mankind” — as Thomas Paine put it in
“Common Sense.”

In the 1992 film adaptation of “Last of the Mohicans,” James Fenimore Cooper’s novel about the Seven Years’ War, there’s an exchange that illustrates American exceptionalism at its best. An effete British officer berates the rough-hewn colonial “Hawkeye”: “You call yourself a loyal subject to the Crown?”

“Don’t call myself ‘subject’ to much at all,” Hawkeye replies.

In his 2008 book, “The Science of Fear,” Daniel Gardener noted that even if terrorists crashed a plane a week, “a person who took one flight a month for a year would have only a 1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a hijacking — a trivial risk compared to the annual 1-in-6,000 odds of being killed in a car.”

If we’d sold our birthright for the proverbial “mess of pottage,” at least we’d have something to eat. It’s more contemptible by far to betray our heritage in the name of “security theater” — pointless restrictions that don’t make us safer.

Examiner columnist Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of “The Cult of the Presidency.”

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Gene Healy

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