Video of 'Irate' Rand Paul vs. TSA

By James Fallows

If you haven't seen it already, it is worth checking out this minute-long clip from the Nashville Tennessean, showing Sen. Rand Paul during part of the hour-plus period he was in a TSA cubicle in Nashville because of a disagreement about whether he needed an extra pat-down. Paul is hidden behind the column for the first few seconds of the video, then he emerges holding a cell phone to his ear and sits down in the chair on the left.

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Obviously this minute doesn't show us everything about one hour; we're not seeing the full context; and so on. But with those caveats, it's worth watching Paul's demeanor in light of police claims that he was being "irate."

The theme in some of my recent TSA-related grievances has involved just this kind of situation: at some airports agents have seemed (to me) to be on hair-trigger to show their authority and put passengers in their place for non-compliant "attitude." Again, we don't know everything that happened with Rand Paul, but in the clip he looks more sedate than most of us would be if held for an hour, forced to miss a plane, and as a result not being able to give a scheduled speech at a major rally on the National Mall.

I do recognize the impossibility of what the TSA and its leaders are trying to do.
   -If they give their agents any leeway or discretion, there will be a million complaints about judgment calls going one way or another.
   -If they don't, we have a US Senator (or any other person) made to cool his heels for an hour when there are no reasonable grounds to think he's a security threat.
   -If the TSA treats everyone as a potential terrorist (which is the de facto current practice, although Administrator John Pistole said in an interview last year that he was trying to move away from it), it creates the patdowns-for-toddlers episodes.
   -If it doesn't, it opens itself to other complaints.
   -If it acts as if any cost or inconvenience is justified if there is the slightest risk of attack, it can nearly destroy the travel system in order to save it.
   -If it doesn't -- and something happens -- it knows that the same Congressmen who complained about security theater will soon be presiding over "who let the terrorists through?" inquisitions.

So, it's tough. But I don't think we've worked out the sweet-spot compromise solution. More on this soon, after Jeffrey Goldberg and I have another chance to interview TSA officialdom.

A few other reader notes. On the bright side:

I live in Des Moines, and I have found, not surprisingly, that the smaller airports are better as far as TSA kindness goes.  The agents in here in DM are very nice, and even crack jokes.  Of course, it would not surprise me if I ran into them at the mall - it's a small city. 

In Orlando recently, the agents were professional and fairly nice, but they did confiscate a fruit cup from my 7 year old daughter.  That kind of thing is utterly amazing to me.  It was a clear plastic, see through cup.  Really?

It could be worse elsewhere:

Have you ever been to DeGaulle in Paris???  TSA seems like heaven.

Regional airports in the USA, for instance Gerald R Ford in Grand Rapids MI, are friendly, fast, handy, clean, well-run.

Detroit is better than it used to be.  O'Hare is HUGE, but fairly well-managed.

I'm with Louis C-K, at least as far as US airports are concerned.  It used to take you 4 months to get from NYC to SF.  Now it takes 4 hours, and you SIT IN A CHAIR while it's happening.  Keep perspective; get a grip; plan some recovery time for when things do go awry.  We're blessed even in the midst of our chaos.
And avoid DeGaulle like the plague.  The plague, I tell you.

I am a fan of the classic Louis C-K riff on how impatient, whiny, and complainy we all become. But airline travel is not a good illustration. Travel from NYC to SF is incomparably faster, safer, and easier than it was 150 years ago. It is slower and harder (though even safer) than it was 25 years ago.

Further in this vein:

I'm a book editor in Chicago.  This note is to encourage you to maintain your "hard-over" attitude on the TSA and their hateful, ruinous effect on commercial air travel, which was very recently one of the great democratic glories of modern life.
 
Their work is transparently, obviously pointless and stupid; please continue to point this out at every opportunity your position affords you.  The public justifications for it are nonsensical.  The backscatter machines, while I'm not really that concerned about their safety, provide featherbedding to crony companies at enormous public expense.  But the most serious problem is the plain fact that the rules and routines are facially absurd and contemptible, far beyond any other aspect of government from IRS to state DMV. 
 
The entire operation is an embarrassment to the United States and its citizens. 

More in the queue, and after our interview. Also, see this new Pro Publica article on a proposed bill requiring independent testing of the TSA's full-body X-ray scanners -- which, it's worth remembering, are prohibited in Europe.

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