As the furor grows day by day over the increased security measures at the airports that focus on body scans and enhanced body "pat downs", I feel somewhat vindicated that finally the world now seems to be catching up with me on the issue of TSA and airport security.
I have been literally railing about this entire concept of elevating the level of security measures and restrictions on fliers every time a new threat incident is revealed and thwarted involving airline travel. For the most part, I have been railing alone, as most people were either unconcerned or afraid to even speak out about it as the intimidation factor seemed to be always present. And we must remember that the majority of Americans actually do not fly.
And the reason I was so critical of our national policy in this area so long before the anger finally reached average Americans is that my criticism was based on what I see as a fundamental contradiction in the overall conceptual theme that has been driving (certainly a preferred option now) all of our airline security measures.
When the terrorists struck on 9/11, the response then and the response continuing since then from our national leaders of both parties has been to encourage Americans to "go on with your lives and do the things you want to do." Indeed, the mantra that became almost a lexiconic phrase in American dialogue was the exhortation that "we can't let the terrorists win." But in fact, my argument has been for some time that it seems the terrorists never lose.
Why? Precisely because each time the terrorists fail with an attempt, they still win in how our reaction to the incident imposes even higher levels of intrusion into the ongoing daily lives of Americans. A new injection of misery with each new incident disrupts our lives and does, in fact, result in so many of us cancelling plans and altering our ability and desire to go on with our lives and do the things we want to do. That's not just an inconvenience. That's a victory the terrorists could never hope to accomplish with their bungling attempts that we always foil. So we achieve the victory for them in how we respond to even the most bungling and elementary actions these ideological criminals and thugs try to perpetrate on us.
And ironically, much of my criticism of what the TSA has been doing is based on my compliments and praise for what the FBI and Homeland Security and our Intelligence agencies are doing. They are doing a great job in protecting us and in foiling terrorist plots before they can be implemented and before they succeed. And we need to acknowledge that.
I have also been just as angry every time I hear some analyst or pundit say that we have been lucky in foiling these terrorist plots and attempts. Lucky? Let's see. Since 9/11 there have been over 26 documented serious attempts at terrorism in airline travel. How many have succeeded? None. Zero. That's not luck. That's because we are good at this. That's because we have such dedicated professionals in the FBI and in Homeland Security and in our Intelligence agencies who know their jobs, are well trained, are committed to their tasks, and who do their jobs day in and day out better than perhaps anyone in the world to protect us and keep us safe. And they are doing that, and we all honor them for that and for their tireless and successful work.
But instead of honoring our professionals in those agencies each time they foil a terrorist attempt, we talk about "how we got lucky this time" and then proceed to ratchet up a new level of security measures as if our agencies had failed. I said some time ago that if things continue to go the way they are, the next step would be a requirement that all passengers be screened at their homes with an unfettered search of the house as well even before you leave for the airport.
And when you do get to the airport, you feel like you've been found innocent and acquitted of treason or subversion when you finally get through the security process and begin to put the clothes back on and the shoes back on and the belt back on and the liquids back in the bag and essentially redress in a way that no one even does at home before they go to the airport anymore.
And too many Americans literally make travel plans now or don't make travel plans now based on wanting to eliminate any airline trips that are not absolutely essential -- because they simply don't want to put up with the hassle anymore than they absolutely have to. When you look at it that way, the terrorists do win each time they fail in their plots because they know our response and knee-jerk reaction will cause far more damage than they could ever cause.
This needs to stop, and hopefully the current furor over body scans and pat downs will help re-introduce some sanity in our decision making process. The fact that TSA has already revised the policy requiring pilots to go through the body scans and pat downs shows how little thought has gone into the logic of what we are doing. And the decision to revise that policy was based on re-evaluating the "intent" -- in other words, why pat down a pilot when if he really has foul intentions, he will have control of the plane. It's just stupid. And they should evaluate the rest of their decision making process in the same light.
And one last point in this area. The TSA has the responsibility to enforce airline security and identify threats. They are not and should not be in the business of denying boarding to people who have cash in their carry on luggage, who haven't made their alimony payments, or who are behind on their Sears credit card. Broadening the scope of the original charter is exactly how government grows out of control in so many areas of life even outside of this particular activity, and that result is why so many Americans have an angry attitude about the government being in their lives in what they perceive to be an intrusive basis.
But the current furor now has Congress itself getting involved, and we even have airports themselves considering "opting out" of the TSA security screening process. Whether there will be substantive changes as a result remains to be seen, but thank God I now have other people listening and acting on concerns and reservations about the airline security process. The flight attendant who slid down the exit chute after having a few beers earlier was hailed as a hero. I don't think he was. But John Tyner, who told the TSA agent that "if you touch my junk I'll have you arrested" -- he may be a hero. Not because of what he did, but because of what we are doing as a result. We need to scale all of this back, and we need to do it now. And no more poll results from people who haven't flown in five years.
And a brief note to President Obama. I am somewhat surprised that the president hasn't taken a more aggressive stance on this issue. Given the "shellacking" he received a few weeks ago, and given the anger that's out there in the country with most of it focused on the government in Washington, this issue is a readymade Clintonesque type gift to the president to enable him to re-connect with the American people and make some headway in refurbishing his image with them in a positive way.
What he could do is show empathy. Acknowledge that he "feels the pain" and really understands -- like Bill Clinton did after the Oklahoma City bombings when he turned things around for his image and poll numbers just months after there was a general question asked about whether "the president was even relevant." Indeed, even President Obama's own secretary of state, ironically also named Clinton, has gotten more PR and image gains from this furor than the president just by asserting that she would pass on going through what Americans have to go through at the airports and calling for a better balance in how we approach airline security.
The president could even use the example of his two daughters and suggest how he just wouldn't be comfortable having them have to go through what children are being subjected to and announce that he is bringing everyone in to the Oval Office to review the issue.
There is real potential here for the president to use this issue to help him re-establish his former connection with independents particularly and also make a connection with Tea Party supporters and many conservatives who share the anger at the new procedures. Politically, this issue will only serve to generate more anger at the government over time if we continue on the path of elevating to an even new level of restrictions and intrusions every time there is a new incident. So the president would be well advised to get out ahead of this curve as it's a win-win for him. He can find support for trying to ease the discomfort for Americans from virtually every quarter and thus not only do the smart thing to help himself politically, which he needs to do every chance he gets, but also do something that really shows leadership in helping Americans deal with the trials and tribulations of everyday life.
Enough is enough -- and maybe the president can get that point across to John Pistole of the TSA and other administrators with somewhat more impact than the rest of us. This would be a smart move for the president, and as Michael Corleone said when asked if it was Clemenza who would come after him, Corleone said "No, it's Tessio. It's a smart move -- Tessio was always smarter." Barack Obama has always been smarter. Here's a chance to make that quality work for him.
And the president can also make sure that the effect of a sympathetic position he might take on this issue will impact others who work for him.
John Pistole, the head of the TSA, recently said to Congress -- "Do I understand the sensitivities involved, Yes. Am I going to change the policy, No." Mr. Pistole, you do not work for yourself. You work for us. I believe that at some point, you will change the policy. It's the smart move, and we hear that at the FBI, you were always smarter.
Carl Jeffers is a Los Angeles-and Seattle based columnist, TV political analyst, radio political and social topic commentator, and a national lecturer and consultant, and he is a regular commentator on the Fox Business Channel. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.