Government overreach at the airport


Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, flies coach between his district and Washington, D.C. He says he always has, and as speaker of the House he always will. That's a democratic man. Perhaps it's just a democratic politician who knows where the votes are, but let's give him the benefit of the doubt.

But democratic sensibilities were shocked on Friday when we learned that this man of the people, though he sits with the people on the plane, does not stand with the people when they're getting "patted down" in the security line.

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I say, good for him!

It would be absurd for anyone with a security clearance to come and go on Capitol Hill as he pleases to be frisked before he boards a plane. As a congressman and soon-to-be speaker, just two heartbeats away from the presidency, he is invested with the public trust. Obviously we trust him not to blow up a plane.

The politician's reflexive response to this sort of revelation is usually to back off from his privilege and resolve to undergo all the indignities and absurdities that everyone else has to suffer, at least until the story blows over. But for his own sake and for the country's sake, Boehner should stand his ground and, with whatever time he doesn't spend trying to defeat a major tax increase in January, he should champion this issue.

Here's what he should say, firmly punctuating each point with an accusing finger:

Of course I don't get patted down and felt up! I'm a United States congressman! By this I mean only that I'm obviously not a terrorist! But that doesn't make me different. Most people who fly are obviously not terrorists. Almost no one should be subjected to this kind of treatment just so they can do what hundreds of millions of people have done for the last half century-fly in a plane.

Just about everyone can see this except the president and those few people in his administration who are responsible for this ridiculous policy that humiliates ordinary and obviously law-abiding Americans while doing nothing at all to improve our safety. The president should recognize this by changing the TSA screening policy immediately.

I am suggesting that Boehner take up this issue as a fight for constitutional liberty. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution reads:

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The sense of this is clearly that government's chief function is to secure us in our persons and property against murder, molestation, and theft. Accordingly, we provide in our Constitution against the temptation of government to creep into this sphere of private liberty, no matter how honorable the goals may seem.

In a sense it is true that people don't have to fly if they don't like having to choose between electronic undressing and being groped. But as people's lives are spread out across the country, whether for business or for the holidays, many people don't have a choice, practically speaking. Is it really an option to take four days to travel to Wyoming for Thanksgiving to see your mother instead of one day?

Government overreach was central to the anger that moved so many voters to turn people out of office in the recent midterm election. Poking around in people's private places without any reasonable cause to suspect they are carrying a bomb gives "government reach" a whole new meaning.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.


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