Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 2004/ 16 Kislev, 5765

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Not every turkey is not for dinner | William Tecumseh Sherman, the terrorist and firebug, famously said, "War is hell," but he hadn't seen the worst of it. He never had to take a trip on a holiday weekend in America, circa 2000.

Not every turkey winds up on a dining-room table.

Travel is broadening, but infuriating. You could ask George W. Bush. He had to pay for the treat of visiting Arkansas by going on to Chile, and he didn't even get to practice the whorehouse Spanish learned in his young and irresponsible days in Texas border towns. He had to rescue his bodyguard from Chilean security men who obviously have nothing to learn from the heavy-handed security freaks of our own.

The government's airport screeners are determined now to eliminate modesty and manners in the world aloft. They're conducting intimate body searches, reaching into secluded nooks and sequestered crannies with the boisterous abandon that aggressive cruisers in gay bars can only dream of.

"I was sweating, I was crying, I was a mess," one woman, an American Airlines stewardess on vacation with her family, told the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. "I've never been touched like that before by another woman."

Airport feel-ups, no matter how much fun they may be for screeners, will no doubt soon be a boon for the lawyers. Hundreds of women and dozens of men have complained, so far mostly to newspaper and television reporters, that the airport squeeze is more than travelers should be required to take.

"People should be outraged, fuming, doing something to change this," says Rhonda Gaynier, a New York City lawyer who submitted to an airport "breast exam" in Tampa, Fla., that was more thorough than any she ever got from her gynecologist. "It's like we have no rights anymore."

The screeners, not all of whom necessarily enjoy their new careers as body snatchers, have their side of the story. They complain that some of the places where they have to put their hands are foul and smelly.

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"We would be remiss not to have enhanced our levels of screening," spokeswoman Andrea McCauley of the Transportation Security Administration told the newspapers. "If there is a threat or something suspicious, we need to make sure we resolve that alarm." (What she was trying to say is that the lot of a policeman or even an airport screener is not a happy one, but this is actually the way the government trains its bureaucrats to talk.)

The government has made an unholy mess of airport security — no one thinks the hundreds of millions of dollars spent since September 11 has actually made travel much safer. The government is afraid, not of terrorists but of being politically incorrect. The screeners know who they're looking for, and they're not the white-haired Lutheran grannies from Minnesota or Methodist Sunday-school boys from Mississippi who are pulled out of the line and poked and probed with hands and wands as if they were evildoers dispatched from Osama bin Laden's cave.

The government, from the president down, is tone-deaf to complaints that everyone understands that legitimate security is important but banana-republic abuse is not. When you go to the airport in a motorcade, attended by fetchers and carriers who do everything for you, even saying, "Pardon me" when you burp, it's only natural to wonder why anyone should complain about anything.

Corporate Republicans, accustomed to life at the country club, are particularly insensitive to inconveniences in the lives of the peasants. Presidents live a life of privilege that kings can only imagine. The first briefing a new president, Democrat or Republican, gets is from the Secret Service, to tell him he's dead meat unless he does as he is told by Fearless Fosdick and Inspector Clouseau: Seal the streets, close the avenues and post grenade launchers on every street corner because life as we have known it must be destroyed to save it.

Men whose "other priorities" deprived them of the Vietnam experience seem particularly susceptible to fear. George W. came to office on a promise to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue, which Bill Clinton had closed, but decided long before September 11 to keep it closed. Congress, eager to be thought of as just as important as the White House, agreed to close enough streets to strangle Capitol Hill traffic.

George W. promised to take sex out of the Oval Office, and he delivered. We just didn't know he was going to send it to the airport.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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