Friday, September 11, 2015

Bureaucrats in the Palace

Forget barbarians at the gates. These predictions by Glenn Reynolds have been spot-on, sad to say.

One observation of his -- "Airport security is a joke because it's spread so thin that it can't possibly stop people who are really serious." -- was true enough, but at least before and immediately after 9/11 it was still tolerable to fly commercial. The "professionalization" of airport security checkpoint personnel changed all that; I dealt with TSA in 2008 on a one-way flight to SFO, my last commercial flight so far.

The bureaucrats won pretty much every domestic political argument during the Bush years, first with the creation of the Office of Homeland Security, which seemed to me unnecessary (though mostly harmless) since the elements for a domestic counterpart to the National Security Council were already in place and could be assembled through low-impact executive action. Then the Office became the Department, and then somebody zeroed in on airport security contractors and now vast swathes of airport space are set up like a West Texas feedlot, complete with invasive veterinary examinations of the livestock before they're loaded up for transport.

I'd had only three "enhanced" encounters with airport security in all my air travels. A contract checkpoint officer confiscated a fake-bullet keychain ornament in the '90s; a TSA agent made me have a keychain-sized Leatherman tool mailed home from the airport; and Mrs. McG and I had our carry-ons wiped down for further testing because supposedly they had traces of something "potentially" explosive on them.

I will admit that being able to keep the Leatherman was a relief after what had happened to my bullet, but since 2008 I have gone nowhere that I couldn't drive to. Trading in airports for interstate highways hasn't been perfect; the long and scenic stretches of rural road are all too frequently punctuated with chaotic, crowded urban freeways -- and even the country miles can become congested with inattentive, rude, or just stupid drivers.

But at least I don't have to pretend to tolerate pointless security kabuki that may only leave me even more vulnerable than the "joke" airport security Reynolds complained about 14 years ago today.

The first time I flew after 9/11, about a month after, passengers were scanning the cabin as they settled into their seats, perhaps looking for possible terrorists but mostly making eye contact with other passengers doing the same thing. It was the safest I'd ever felt on a commercial jet. Of course the bureaucrats couldn't let that continue. Now the flying public seems to be back in the September 10 world.

If even that. The passengers on Flight 93 had been in that world when they boarded, but lived just long enough in post-9/10 to inspire their fellow Americans. I'm not sure the selfie generation would have it in them to do the same.

And when you look at the current crop of presidential frontrunners, how confident can you be that Reynolds's second bit of advice -- "Overreaction is the terrorist's friend." -- would be heeded in 2017?

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