Roger’s Rules

Pilot, Co-pilot, and Gunner: or, Ending the TSA Tyranny

Every other day, it seems, there’s a new story about some fresh outrage perpetrated by the TSA, the “Transportation Security Administration,” i.e., the government busybodies who get their kicks patting down grandma while pretending to keep the skies safe from terrorists. Just today, Instapundit reports that a teenager was stopped at the security gate in Norfolk because her purse sported the design of a gun on its side.  “By the time security wrapped up the inspection,” we read, “the pregnant teen missed her flight, and Southwest Airlines sent her to Orlando instead, worrying her mother, who was already waiting for her to arrive at JIA.”  The I. Pundit maestro Glenn Reynolds spoke for many, I suspect, when he concluded: “Really, that’s just pathetic.”

It is pathetic. And it is worth noting that we do not have to behave like Eeyore (“What color was it when it was an AK47?”). [UPDATE: and this just in: 85-year-old woman may sue TSA after being strip searched at JFK Airport]  Andy McCarthy and I were lunching yesterday with some friends from Effingham, Illinois, a little oasis of political maturity in the vast sewer that is Illinois.  At some point the folly of the TSA came up and several constructive ideas were put forth.  I thought I would share a few of the most pertinent with readers.

Shortly after the terrorist assaults of 9/11, Mark Steyn had the proposal, which I strongly support, of allowing passengers to bring loaded guns with them on airplanes. Just imagine: Mohammed jumps up yelling “Allahu Akbar” and brandishing a box cutter. Four or five public-spirited passengers instantly stand up and plug the fellow with the appropriate airborne ordnance  and everybody settles back to enjoy a double scotch and take in a Wyatt Earp flick while the stewardess tidies up the mess oozing about the box cutter. The general point, which I made when the loony tune Cho Seung-Hui went on his murderous rampage at Virginia Tech a few years ago, is that if “more people had guns and knew how to use them, fewer people would get shot.” That contravenes liberal dogma, I know, but I really do believe it to be true.

I suspect it’s going to take a while before we get there, however, so in the meantime here’s a proposal from my Effingham friend Dr. Rick Workman.  Right now, we spend billions of dollars on a new government institution (the TSA) which invades people’s privacy, clogs our airports, and doesn’t really do anything to make flying safer. Why not dismantle the whole thing and hire a couple thousand sharp shooters?  We place one or two on every flight up by the cockpit behind some bullet-proof plexiglass. Ahmed gets restless, bang! He gets his 72 virgins. When I asked about reading him his Miranda rights, Andy suggested the perfect abridgment: “You have the right to remain silent,” which, in the circs., he was certain to do  anyway.

Pilot, Co-pilot, and Gunner: that ought to be the operative slogan. Not only would it make air travel safer, but it would also make the terrestrial prolegomenon a lot more pleasant. Just think: no more interminable lines; no more snarky “agents” who spend their days palpating the public and relieving little old ladies of their knitting needles and chaps like me of the Swiss army knives, nail files, and cuticle scissors. How many people do you reckon the TSA employs? I couldn’t find out on a quick search but it must be many thousands. Their budget, according to Wikipedia, is about $7 billion.  Surely we could get (if I may so put it) more bang for the buck by following some version of Dr. Workman’s plan. Ultimately, I believe, airport security should be an airline, not a government, responsibility. The worst thing about the TSA is not its ineffectiveness or even its nuisance value. Rather, the worst thing about it is its statist coerciveness.  You cross those moronic agents at your own peril, but why should that be? It’s because they, like so many bureaucrats today, are invested with the ineluctable power of the state. I always find it disturbing to witness the security lines at an airport: how like herding cattle or sheep it seems: a timid, passive, compliant crowd on the one side, an arrogant and officious corps of bureaucrats on the other. “Take off your jacket, take off your shoes, let me feel behind your belt, open up your sponge bag, throw away that water, that toothpaste, that shampoo.” And we do, grateful if only we escape closer scrutiny and are allowed to continue on our way. It is, as Glenn Reynolds observed, “just pathetic.”

That’s the real reason to despise the TSA: they soften us up and  accustom us to passivity and compliance exactly as Tocqueville warned in his famous passages about democratic despotism. Andy McCarthy wondered whether someone had brought a Constitutional challenge against the TSA on the grounds that they treat everyone as a prospective criminal and subject the public indiscriminately to unreasonable searches and seizures. Someone certainly should. In the meantime, it is worth meditating on something Friedrich Hayek said in The Road to Serfdom: “Who can doubt,” Hayek asked, “. . . that the power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbor and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest functionnaire possess who wields the coercive power of the state on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work?” Or, I might add, whether and where you’ll be allowed to fly.  The TSA is itself an admonitory tale whose toxic significance far transcends its quotidian inconveniences. It is a model of a certain form of bureaucratic tyranny. It should be resisted and dismantled wholesale at the first opportunity.