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Jonah Goldberg Bombs on TSA Brouhaha

By on 12.2.10 | 8:53AM

Over at The Corner, Jonah Goldberg decries the way I have framed the debate on the Right over airline safety screening by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). In a post here at AmSpec, I described a split on the Right that pits "authority-loving cons" against "liberty-loving cons."

Goldberg says "this is really too facile." And he complains that I don't prove my case. How do I know, he protests, that the TSA's screening methods (which Goldberg admits he "detests") have been ineffective? "It seems to me," he writes,

that smuggling explosives in your shoes and pants is a sign that terrorists see the security screen as at least a hurdle. Certainly these measures are better than nothing.

Guardiano does link to a post by Robert Poole; and I think Poole's recommendations all sound reasonable, even desirable. But [how] does Guardiano know that these alleged authority-lovers wouldn't prefer Poole's approach?

I wish Jonah had taken the time -- and 15 minutes would have sufficed! -- to read some of the posts by the authority-loving cons he rushes to defend. Because if he had done so, then I don't think he would now be complaining about my depiction of them.

All of Jonah's precious authority-loving cons defend the TSA's use of porno scanners, pat-downs and feel-ups. Indeed, Max Boot says explicitly that "body scanners and pat-downs are…part of the price of safety in this age of Islamist terrorism."

And, like Jonah, they create a straw man to oppose and beat down. They pretend that the alternative to these noxious and ineffective screening methods is... "nothing." But that's patently untrue, which is why I referenced Robert Poole's seminal research and analysis.

Poole, who is President of the free market Reason Foundation, has proposed a better way: Employ a risk-based screening system that "focus[es] TSA resources on the travelers who should receive the most scrutiny by reducing the use of resources on low-risk travelers."

In practice, this would mean rationally profiling passengers based on their likelihood to commit acts of terrorism. It would mean acknowledging, in our screening methods, that not all passengers pose the same risk. Some are more dangerous than others. And the more dangerous passengers -- say, 25-year-old male students from Somalia -- ought to be the focus of our screening efforts, not 80-year-old grandmothers from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

So how do I know that the authority-loving cons "wouldn't prefer Poole's approach"? Simple. Because, Jonah, none of them say that they do! Instead, they all make excuses for the porno scanners, the pat-downs and the feel-ups -- and they defend the TSA!

With blind faith, it seems to me, they simply choose to believe what the authorities tell them, which is that these screening methods are crucial and necessary. Yet, Jonah whines, "that's really what rankles: the glib assertion of bad faith. How does he [Guardiano] know his policy opponents are ensorceled by their love of authority?"

Why can't Danielle Pletka and Marc Thiessen (colleagues of mine at the American Enterprise Institute for the record) simply be weighing the costs and benefits differently? Why can't they have concluded such measures are the best way to defend liberty? How does Guardiano know what's in their hearts?

Of course, I never attributed bad faith to anyone. Nor have I pretended to know what is in anyone's heart. I simply have observed that "there are a group of conservatives for whom their blind faith in authority outweighs their love of liberty. I call these conservatives the 'authority-loving cons.'"

I'm sorry, Jonah, but if the shoe fits -- and it surely does in this case -- wear it! My analysis stings not because it is unfair or inaccurate. My analysis stings because it exposes the soft philosophical underbelly of the authority-loving cons.

Again, as Mark Hyman has observed here at The American Spectator:

In nearly a decade, there is not a single report of a terrorist having been caught during the TSA screening process. No bombs have been discovered. No hijackings have been thwarted.

For the TSA to claim it has made the nation's skies safer is as absurd as the rooster taking credit for the sun rising each morning. Observant passengers have caught more terrorist-wannabes than the 67,000 TSA employees...

The TSA is fueled by political correctness run amuck. Its sole accomplishments to date have been establishing a sizable airport presence and humiliating passengers...

It is long past time to disband the TSA. Replace it with an effective, free market system that actually works.

"Hyman's post," I wrote, "ought to be required reading for every member of Congress. It's that good and that compelling."

In light of Jonah's polemic, I would add only one thing: Hyman's post ought to be required reading for journalists and bloggers who opine about the TSA and its screening methods. That way we could avoid disputing the indisputable.

We could debate instead how, exactly, to scrap the TSA, and how to start over with a screening system that inconveniences the terrorists rather than the patriotic flying public. I eagerly await Jonah's contribution to that debate.

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