James Fallows engages in a little goodnatured conservative-bashing in his column in the Atlantic today, and inadvertently touches on a point that’s genuinely interesting:
The TSA case, on which Douthat builds his column, is in fact quite a poor illustration — rather, a good illustration for a different point. There are many instances of the partisan dynamic working in one direction here. That is, conservatives and Republicans who had no problem with strong-arm security measures back in the Bush 43 days but are upset now. Charles Krauthammer is the classic example: forthrightly defending torture as, in limited circumstances, a necessary tool against terrorism, yet now outraged about “touching my junk” as a symbol of the intrusive state.
But are there any cases of movement the other way? Illustrations of liberals or Democrats who denounced “security theater” and TSA/DHS excesses in the Republican era, but defend them now? If such people exist, I’m not aware of them — and having beaten the “security theater” drum for many long years now, I’ve been on the lookout.
See, I see it differently (and I’m not talking about whether conservatives or liberals are more consistent in the way that Fallows is describing). In my view, the issue is simple. Liberals care most of all about “justice as fairness,” so the idea of targeting people or treating one class of people differently than others – whether because they are worse (more dangerous in this context) or better (less dangerous) – makes them uncomfortable. Conservatives feel uncomfortable with that notion of justice, and instead see justice as the (deserved) heaping of badness on wrongdoers. See liberal bete-noir Toby Keith:
Well a man come on 6 o’clock news
Said, “Somebody been shot, somebody’s been abused
Somebody blew up a building, somebody stole a car
Somebody got away, somebody didn’t get too far”
Yeah, they didn’t get too far
Grand pappy told my pappy back in my day son
A man had to answer for the wicked that he’d done
Take all the rope in Texas find a tall oak tree
Round up all of them bad boys, hang them high in the street
For all the people to see
That justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys, you got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
And we’ll all meet back at the local saloon
We’ll raise up our glasses against Evil forces singing
Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses
If you’re nodding your head in approval, you’re probably a conservative. If you’re shaking it in disgust…probably not.
That distinction is the consistent one that runs through the security commentary I read (and I read a lot of it). Mapping whether they approve/disapprove of the latest farce from the TSA, and whether their approval changes with the political winds, is certainly interesting – but in the end kind of useless if what’s being shown is the distinction between being a good AYSO coach and a good Texas Ranger.