TIA Daily • November 19, 2010
Don’t Touch My Junk
The Second Phase of the Rebellion Against Out-of-Control Government
by Robert Tracinski
By now, you’ve all heard of John Tyner, the 31-year-old software engineer who ascended to folk hero status when he recorded a testy exchange with TSA airport screeners who wanted to subject him to an “enhanced patdown,” which involves touching him in an especially personal part of the body. When told what was about to happen, Tyner warned the screener, using contemporary slang for the area in question, “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested.” (A good overview of the exchange, along with the full video, can be found here.) Tyner was ejected from the airport and prevented from flying.
Tyner’s statement of defiance has made it into the culture in a shorter, more bumper-sticker-friendly form: “Don’t touch my junk.”
Charles Krauthammer had pretty much the same thought I had when I first heard this story: “Not quite the 18th-century elegance of ‘Don’t Tread on Me,’ but the age of Twitter has a different cadence from the age of the musket.” Expect to see the slogan on signs at the next Tea Party rally.
This incident galvanized a growing rebellion against increasingly intrusive TSA rules. It’s partly because these absurd procedures—taking off our belts and shoes, carrying no more than 3.5 ounces of any liquid, and so on—have not had any demonstrable effect in catching terrorists. It’s partly because they are based on a “politically correct” fiction: pretending that everyone is equally likely to be a terrorist and should therefore be searched at random, so that screeners frisk the little old lady from Topeka, but not the wild-eyed guy namedOmar whose own father ratted him out as a terrorist to the US embassy in Nigeria.
The biggest reason for the rebellion is that the TSA searches have suddenly become much more intrusive. New electronic body scanners basically show what travelers look like naked, and to force us to submit to this electronic strip-search, the TSA pulls aside anyone who refuses the scans and subjects them to a more hands-on approach—which is where Tyner drew the line.
But there is also, I think, one additional factor feeding this rebellion: the failure of the first civilian trial for an al-Qaeda terrorist, who was acquitted on—get this—284 out of 285 counts, largely because the “exclusionary rule” was used to block the most important testimony against him, on the grounds that the witness had confessed while being detained by the military and possibly subjected to coercive interrogation.
That sums it up, doesn’t it? Terrorists won’t be subjected to “enhanced interrogation”—so law-abiding Americans will be subjected to “enhanced patdowns.” Or as the TSA supervisor explained to Tyner: “By buying your ticket you gave up a lot of rights.”
I think most people are willing to accept reasonable security precautions—and a few unreasonable ones—if we think that the bad guys are getting it much worse. But now we’re now at the point we were warned about: terrorists have rights, and we don’t.
As I hinted above, there is a broader lesson to all of this. The idea that we don’t have rights, that we have given them up for the “privilege” of going about our ordinary daily business—isn’t that part of the sense that is fueling the Tea Party rebellion against big government?
And as a statement of the proper relationship between the individual and the state, “don’t touch my junk” is a principle with universal application. It is the answer to nearly every political question.
Should we raise income taxes to pre-Bush levels? Don’t touch my junk. Should the EPA be allowed to issue sweeping new regulations on the greenhouse gas emissions that come from your car, your lawnmower, your house? Don’t touch my junk. Should the new “food bill” be allowed to put massive new regulations on farmers, dictating what you can and cannot eat? Don’t touch my junk. Should the new health care law dictate what kind of health insurance you have, what it will cover, what kind of procedures are “cost-effective,” or your relationship with your doctor? Don’t touch my junk.
John Tyner isn’t just a folk hero. He is a political philosopher of the first order.
He is astute enough, at least, to name one big issue clearly. Told that being groped by a TSA screener was not sexual assault, he replied, “It would be if you were not the government.” And that’s the big issue: when we have no rights, all restrictions on government—from the Constitution to ordinary criminal law—are broken down.
All of this depends on only one thing: our docility. It depends on our being overawed by the authority of government. The Tea Party movement and its electoral results were a demonstration that the ordinary American will stand up when pushed far enough. John Tyner has just opened the next phase of this rebellion.
The enhanced patdowns and strip-search scanners are a kind of trial balloon, to test exactly how much we’re going to take, to see whether there is any area so intimate that we will demand that the government stay out of it. And now we know what to say in response.
Don’t touch my junk.