Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) had an incident with the Transportation Security Agency which may or may not have involved some sort of "detainment", but definitely led to Paul missing his flight because he didn't feel like someone getting a handful of senator. Regardless of what happened, it's time to remind ourselves that when you don't like a guy's stance on abortion, that means the TSA's power is hilarious and/or not a big deal. The White House Press Secretary's response was an unsurprising, "I think it is absolutely essential that we take necessary actions to ensure that air travel is safe."
But some media folks had some slightly more surprising and slightly more irritating responses. Esquire's blog was scornful and ready for further overreaction from Paul. Gawker's army of snark is often put to good or at least benign, soppy celebrity use, in spite of their general leftish slant. But today's blog post on Paul's TSA moment, by Max Read, is completely annoying in that it manages to make note of something that Gawker is often great on reporting — police excess — and yet use that as a trump card. See, the war on drugs is so bad that it's stupid and petty and middle-aged white guy-y to complain about the TSA. At least Alex Pareene at Salon tweeted amusingly about the incident.
But for a government agency founded under George Bush paranoia, it's amazing how many liberals seemed to be suddenly keen on defending the TSA when it turned into a big to-do last year.
Under the headline, "Rand Paul is So Full of Shit About Being Detained by the TSA" Read also has plenty of room for general condemnation of libertarians, even if the younger Paul's qualifications for that title are debatable:
Libertarians are a people constantly in search of issues to be self-righteous about. This is the problem of a political movement about "freedom" peopled largely by white men with college degrees and above-average incomes: there's not a lot of freedom they don't already have, and not a lot of situations where their civil rights are being potentially trampled. The TSA is a wonderful thing for contemporary American libertarianism; it's one of not many places where a upper middle class Linux engineer can actually stand off against an invasive government.
But the stakes are so low and the "violation" so inconsequential that fit-throwing libertarians end up looking pathetic, even when they're basically right. Especially when they decide to invoke inaccurate language — language that could be accurately applied to civil rights injustices taking place not in the Nashville airport.
It's not that I doubt a Linux engineer or internet cartoonist or libertarian think tank employee would be similarly bold in the face of (say) militarized police attempting to enter their homes on flimsy drug warrants, it's that the war on drugs is so plainly different and worse and more pressing than an airport screening that the act of refusing a pat down, and calling it a "detention," comes across as an unbelievably petty dramatic fit instead of the imagined noble stand against an oppressive government. Couple that with the fact that TSA agents are union workers, often minorities, just trying to do their jobs, and it's really difficult to feel like this is a "stand" worth taking at all. Just let them pat you down, guy. Stop holding up the line.
Great! Read is aware of the existence of militarized police and "flimsy drug warrants"! That makes him more politically savvy than much of the population; which make makes the rest of his post all the more disappointing. He hates the war on drugs and correctly identifies that it is worse than TSA pat-downs. He neglects to mention that standing up to militarized police—whatever that means to him exactly — has a really good chance of getting a person killed. The nice thing about standing up to the TSA is that that won't happen. So, does that mean there's no point? Is there a readily available list of which causes are worth bothering with and which are petty?
It's easy to fall into the rhetorical trap of calling the TSA jack-booted thugs or to refer to their action as proof that America is turning into "a police state," as did the Elder Paul. I won't lose sleep over it if people choose to portray the TSA that way or in even more alarming terms. But that's not the point. Intellectually honest liberals should be able to sift through that arguably excessive rhetoric — or hell, just ask themselves what a country would look like that fit their definition of "police state"...perhaps the Bush years? — and recognize that the TSA is ridiculous and it's security theater and people have tested and proved that time and again.
But remember, to a certain type of commentator, slight rhetorical exaggeration in the face of government excess is always a bigger outrage than the excess its self.