Memo to crybaby America

    Grow up, Americans. Stand still for a few seconds at the body scanning machine, then be on your way to the concourse. Put up with the patdowns, and be thankful that the government is thinking seriously about your safety. Knock off the crybaby behavior, and chalk up these unwelcome airport intrusions as a very small sacrificial price to pay in the war on terror.The mass hysteria of recent days – exacerbated by mainstream media outlets, grateful for a new twist on the boring holiday travel season story; and by the usual conservative suspects, grateful for a new way to whack President Obama’s “government overreach” – has bordered on the comic. Maybe some math will put things in proper perspective. Since the Transportation Safety Administration’s new rules were put in place last week, more than 34 million passengers have flown within or to the United States. Care to guess what share of those passengers have been subjected to those crotch patdowns? Roughly one-half of one percent. Care to guess how many complaints the TSA logged nationwide prior to the press frenzy? Seven hundred.But mostly what we hear about is the guy who told a TSA screener not to touch his “junk” (thereby landing the guy on CNN for his designated five minutes of fame), and about various cringe-worthy incidents – such as the retired special ed teacher whose urostomy bag broke during a patdown, leaving him soaked in urine (the TSA chief apologized); and the ABC news producer in Newark who said that the patdown procedure she endured “was basically worse than going to the gynecologist.”Unquestionably, there have been some deplorable episodes. But they are anomalies. The overwhelming percentage of passengers are making their flights with relatively minimal inconvenience (this doesn’t qualify as news) – which strikes me as a perfectly acceptable tradeoff, given the fact that the terrorist threat to the flying public is very real, especially during the holiday season. Or have we somehow forgotten that a passenger plane would’ve blown up over Detroit last Christmas, if the guy with the underwear bomb hadn’t screwed up? The balance between privacy and security is ever evolving, and, yes, it seems increasingly tilted toward the latter. But I see no need to break out the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, just because some screener is checking my body outline. Since we basically expect 100 percent security, the least we can do is our small part to ensure something close to that number.Granted, I’ll admit that my own tolerance level is high. It’s a product of experience. As a foreign correspondent for The Philadelphia Inquirer in the early ’90s, I traveled frequently to Belfast. At the airports, security men would pull political books from my bag – books about the Northern Ireland violence – and quiz me closely about why I was reading them. In Belfast, I frequently covered terrorist bombings (from 1994: “The floor, desks, chairs, books, shelves and toys were covered with ceiling plaster and glass from the blown-out windows. A workman nailed up boards where the windows used to be, while serenading his mates with an old pop song by Harry Nillson”), and late one night, when I went to a movie to unwind, we were all frisked and searched in the lobby. That happened a lot in London, too.But that’s my point. We need a little perspective. We have sacrificed virtually zip during the war on terror; the troops do all that for us, out of sight and often out of mind. We need to get real about the deadly age in which we live, and not equate an icky patdown with totalitarianism.Which brings me to the Internet hysterics – particularly The Drudge Report, which early yesterday logged 10 separate story links – and the various huffers and puffers in the conservative commentariat, such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Mark Styen, and Peter Roff of the Institute for Liberty (Roff scoffed yesterday: “A federal agency go too far? Surely you jest”).Forgive my confusion, but I always thought that conservatives favored a robust government response to the terrorist threat, using all available means. Waterboarding? Check. Warrantless phone surveillance of Americans? Check. Invading the wrong country and borrowing money from China in order to fight it? Check. But requiring that flying Americans give up some privacy in a public area, for the purpose of enhanced security? No check. Better to accuse Obama’s TSA of government overreach, since that fits the ongoing oppositional narrative.Of course, if the TSA had decided against implementing these stricter measures, and a plane was subsequently blown up by a passenger, the conservative backlash would be savage. Obama critics would swiftly declare that this wimpy administration had failed to do what was necessary to keep Americans safe.These conservative critics need to hear what George W. Bush’s airport security people are saying. Turns out, some are publicly supporting the new TSA rules. Chad Wolf, who handled TSA security policy for Bush back in 2005, now tells Politico: “TSA is probably doing the right thing from a security perspective.” And Tom Blank, a former acting TSA deputy administrator, says, “I give this administration credit for moving ahead pretty aggressively.”So. You want to sacrifice a little in the war on terror? Stand in line a little longer, and withstand the screening indignities. That grande latte will be waiting for you in the concourse Starbucks.But if all that seems too much to ask, consider these rhetorical questions, framed so well yesterday by Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter. He gets the last word:”(D)on’t you wish there could be separate flights for those of us who like the idea of heightened security at the airports, and flights for those who don’t want to bother being scanned? Which set of planes do you think the terrorists would attack?”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.