The Corner

That Simple? Really?

I understand as well as the next guy the need to make generalizations from time to time (everyone from Oregon named Phil is not to be trusted, for example). But I think this is really too facile. John Guardiano over at the Spectator thinks the divide on the right over TSA scanners can be neatly summed up as a battle between “liberty-loving” conservatives and “authority loving conservatives.” He writes: “Authority-loving cons see the TSA as they want it to be; liberty-loving cons see the TSA as it really is.”

Well, case closed! To support his argument Guardiano notes at some length that R. Emmet Tyrrell agrees with him, and he writes:

All of which begs the fundamental questions: Do these so-called security measure actually work? Do they keep us safe? Have they stopped and detected terrorists? Is there a better way?

The answer to these questions are all very clear: No, no, no and yes, respectively. Yet, authority-loving cons persist in their willful self-delusion. “This is about keeping us safer,” insists Pletka. “And if it deters the next attack, I am for it.”There they go again! Assuming that which is demonstrably false.

But what falsity has he demonstrated? How does he know that airport screening methods (which I detest, for the record) haven’t deterred any terrorists? It seems to me that smuggling explosives in your shoes and pants is a sign that terrorists see the security screens as at least a hurdle.  Certainly these measures are better than nothing. Guardiano does link to a post by Robert Poole and I think Poole’s recommendations all sound reasonable, even desirable. But does Guardiano know that these alleged authority-lovers wouldn’t prefer Poole’s approach?

And that’s really what rankles: the glib assertion of bad faith. How does he know his policy opponents are ensorceled by their love of authority?  Wait five minutes for the next controversy to erupt and many of Guardiano’s liberty lovers may well be on the side of authority and some of the authority lovers will be on the side of liberty.

Fundamentally, Guardiano’s argument is indistinguishable from Obama’s claims that his opponents blindly cling to their bigotry and religion and that liberals are on the side of facts and logic and reason. Only this time the blinkered ideologues are “authority-loving cons” and the intrepid empircists are “liberty loving cons.”

Why can’t Danielle Pletka and Marc Thiessen (colleagues of mine at the American Enterprise Institute for the record) simply be weighing the costs and benefits differently? Why can’t they have concluded such measures are the best way to defend liberty? How does Guardiano know what’s in their hearts? Or is he just sure he’s right and then develops his argument from there?

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