President Obama said today he sympathizes with passenger complaints about aggressive body pat-downs at airports, but his counter-terrorism aides say they are necessary to guard against hidden explosives.
Balancing privacy and security is a "tough situation," Obama told reporters at a news conference following the NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal.
"One of the most frustrating aspects of this fight against terrorism is that it has created a whole security apparatus around us that causes a huge inconvenience for all of us," Obama said.
Obama cited the attempted airplane attack by the so-called underwear bomber last Christmas as justification for aggressive security measures.
How did we ever manage to lose our perspective so completely? Yes, it's true, aggressive screening is necessary to guard against hidden explosives. But when did we concede that it is necessary to guard against hidden explosives with no consideration of the cost? Cars kill 40,000 people a year in the U.S. but that's a price we're willing to pay for the freedom cars provide. Guns (sorry, people wielding guns) kill somewhere north of 10,000 (with the war on drugs playing no small role) but inconveniencing people even a little (like forcing them to undergo a background check) to get that toll down is a political non-starter, as is legalizing drugs. So why are we so willing to allow ourselves to be ogled and groped -- and, more to the point, allow our children to be ogled and groped -- to address a hypothetical problem that has never actually killed anyone? If someone wants to create terror, wouldn't it be a lot easier to hide a bomb in a truck and blow up a shopping mall? Or Times Square?
Yes, it's possible that someone could smuggle an explosive in their underwear (again). But it's also possible that someone will smuggle an explosive onto an airplane in their rectum, so body cavity searches are also "necessary to guard against hidden explosives." Just because something is "necessary to guard against hidden explosives" doesn't mean we should do it.
We could blow up a 747 every week and still not come close to kill the number of people who die from cigarettes. So why aren't we banning tobacco?
Here's a theory: tobacco makes money for powerful people. So do cars. So do drugs as long as they are illegal. And so do X-ray machines. Among the people making money off X-ray machines is Michael Chertoff, former head of the department of homeland security. The government's maddeningly hypocritical approach to risk management starts to make a lot more sense on the theory that the quality metric is not safety, but something else altogether.