American voters, who have felt powerless against the allegedly invasive screening methods used by an expanding TSA, got an unexpected gift from a very unexpected place last week.
At the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., the party adopted a platform that included a pledge to reform the TSA.
I'm not making this up. Here's the actual platform language:
While the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks brought about a greater need for homeland security, the American people have already delivered their verdict on the Transportation Security Administration: its procedures -- and much of its personnel -- need to be changed.
It is now a massive bureaucracy of 65,000 employees who seem to be accountable to no one for the way they treat travelers. We call for the private sector to take over airport screening wherever feasible and look toward the development of security systems that can replace the personal violation of frisking.
It's the first time since the TSA's creation a decade ago that any major political party has taken an official stand on the agency, and it marks a real turning point. Until now, the cause of TSA reform has been marginalized to a few activist legislators on both sides of the aisle.
But with this document, all that changes. Something can be done now.
The question is this: Will the Democrats follow the GOP lead? We won't know until their official platform is adopted at their national convention in Charlotte this week. (The early buzz on its platform, and a look at previous position papers, suggests the TSA remains a non-issue. But we can hope.)
The TSA's critics aren't exactly doing backflips. Because while almost everyone can agree with the first few sentences of the Republican platform section on the TSA -- that the agency is in need of reform, and that it's a "massive bureaucracy" that seems accountable to no one -- there's no consensus on what to do about it.
The TSA's most hard-line critics want to eliminate the agency, replacing it with private airport security. Others say the agency should be reformed but remain part of the federal government.
Almost no one is publicly saying the agency works just fine as it is. To claim the TSA is doing a good job protecting America's transportation systems in the face of widespread complaints, lawsuits and its own paper trail of misdeeds, would probably be political suicide.
As usual, it isn't what candidates are saying, but what they aren't saying, that's the problem.
Pretending the TSA isn't an issue would be foolish, an indication that a candidate is tone-deaf and out of touch with the reality of traveling in 2012.
Yet even acknowledging the TSA is an issue can be politically risky, too. The only presidential candidate who has taken a stand on the TSA is former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, and he has zero chance of getting elected, which is too bad. Makes the whole presidential election look fixed.
And consider the latest dust-up between Texas Rep. Ron Paul and TSA agents in Clearwater, Fla., last week. Was that confrontation a coincidence? I doubt it.
The only ones who benefit from remaining silent on the issue of the TSA is the TSA bureaucracy and the subcontractors and lobbyists who have made a fortune from our collective fears.
Everyone else loses. The voters lose, because they get four more years of an incompetent, overpriced and dishonest agency "protecting" us from a nonexistent threat, critics will point out. The incumbents, should they be re-elected, will also lose -- more specifically, their legacies will be tarnished because they will always be remembered as the ones who failed to curb a wasteful and abusive federal agency.
Like it or not, the TSA is already an election-year issue.
If Democrats, independents and Green Party candidates remain silent on the problems of the TSA, then we should all be prepared for another four years of abuse at the hands of an agency that is, by most accounts, of control.
And the nominees who ignore the reality of traveling today should prepare themselves too -- for a probable electoral defeat.