Last week, I took my daughters to Baltimore-Washington International Airport for their trip back home. Their flight left at 6:20 a.m., which meant rising at 3:45 a.m. to get to the airport at least 90 minutes ahead.
Even in those wee hours, a platoon of white-shirted, blue-trousered officers from the federal Transportation Security Administration scanned, wanded, opened bags, and otherwise invaded the privacy of law-abiding Americans. Getting by them took about 15 minutes, and as we left for the gate, another squad of TSA gumshoes emerged from a back room.
It was about 5 a.m., but I delivered one last, paternal epistle: This is the result of American foreign policy. The twin towers went down because of our meddling in the Middle East. And that led to this security nonsense.
My point: Citizens in countries that meddle abroad and make war eventually wind up living in the garrison state.
It was all so avoidable, simply by following the sage counsel of Washington, Jefferson, and Quincy Adams. But since FDR and Truman, the United States has refereed the Middle Eastern shooting and bombing inspired by who knows what, other than ancient hatreds and injustices, real and imagined.
Like a boxing referee who steps between swinging fighters once too often, we got punched, but on purpose. We suffered the mighty blow of Sept. 11 because we have always taken the other fighter's side. Three thousand dead, however, hasn't been the only price.
Old ladies remove shoes at the airport. Passengers are strip-searched minutes before departure. A federal gopher seized, as "contraband," a Medal of Honor from American Marine Corps hero Joe Foss.
And this only what we see. The American Civil Liberties Union, commie outfit though it is, outlined what you won't see, courtesy of the "Patriot Act”:
Agents clandestinely searching your home using secret warrants; probing your credit history without your consent; snooping into your library books, and filing charges against the librarian if she tells you.
Early this year, Internal Security Minister John Ashcroft proposed warrantless wire-tapping, secret arrests and legal immunity for rogue federal agents, as well as a new database for DNA, which the government could collect without a court order. This is Patriot Act II.
Some congressmen are trying to repeal provisions of the first Patriot Act, and you can read more details elsewhere. But know now, citizen, federal storm troopers might target your home, bank accounts and credit cards for uttering the wrong words or reading the wrong books. Hassles at the airport will seem a trivial indignity.
All this, observes ACLU about Patriot Act II, is a "severe reduction of basic checks and balances on the power of the executive branch."
Warned James Madison, "war is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it."
First Lincoln. Then Wilson. FDR. Add Bush to the list.
Us, Not Them
But not to the list of those to be poked, prodded, and probed with impunity.
The Bush Gendarme Rumsfeld, Ridge, and Cheney, et al. will never tear off socks, shoes, and belts at 6 a.m., only to hear a stewardess rudely holler to hurry because the flight is about to leave, as if disrobing two minutes before departure was the passenger's idea.
These airport high jinks seem trivial. But they aren't, as the Patriot Acts show. American liberty is in jeopardy.
August 16, 2003
Syndicated columnist R. Cort Kirkwood [send him mail] is managing editor of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va.