Pat-Down to the People

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On August 10, British police foiled a terrorist plot that apparently aimed to smuggle liquid explosives disguised as sports drinks onto aircraft and activate them by means of disposable cameras, thus blowing up six to ten planes en route to the U.S.

What a silly plot: “Someone stop him! He’s taking a picture of that Gatorade!” That sort of thing wouldn’t fly on a made-for-TV movie. Even the bumbling shoe bomber had more style.

A silly plot deserves an equally silly crackdown and, indeed, all bottles of liquid – water, coffee, shampoo, contact solution, duty-free liquor – were immediately placed on the forbidden list. It was even worse in Britain, where all carry-on luggage was banned, bar the barest hygienic necessities (and I suppose even those could be at risk: imagine if a terrorist smuggled in a “tampon bomb”).

The biggest surprise of the whole drama has been the response of the public. They’re pissed – and not, for the most part, at Muslims. For five years now the body politic has spread itself for invasion, and finally it’s fed up at the prohibitions and

the pat-downs, the pokes and the prods. It beggars belief that there is not yet a system in place to speed along the average traveler and his luggage, and with every tortuous line and torturous inspection it becomes clearer to that average traveler that such a system is nowhere near implementation.

Now Republican leaders are competing to see who can come up with the most outlandish link between the Pakistani bottle bombers and the war in Iraq, and Democratic insiders are whining about how none of this would have happened if only men like hawkish milquetoast Joe Lieberman were in charge. Neither have anything but scorn for the voices in their own parties, like Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Rep. Tim Murtha (D-Penn.), who say that, after five years of documented failure, it’s time to try another way. But more and more Ameri- cans are prepared to listen to that message, and perhaps even to act on it – witness Democratic Connecticut voters rejecting Lieberman as their standard-bearer. Frustration is becoming more potent than fear and, if the mood holds, those politicians who pay attention to the people rather than each other will profit come November.

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