"You Don't Have Any Civil Liberties If You're Dead"
Be careful what you ask for; you just might get it. So it is with the uproar from disingenuous conservatives trying to capitalize on the public outcry over the TSA's airport body scans and aggressive pat-downs. While Charles Krauthammer now spouts "don't touch my junk" and Rush Limbaugh declares, "Keep your hands off my tea bag, Mr. President," five years ago the right-wing echo chamber applauded President Bush's regime of illegal domestic surveillance by the NSA. After all, they insisted then, you don't have civil liberties when you're dead.
That stunning defense of anti-terrorism over-reach became a Republican staple in December 2005. After the New York Times revealed the Bush administration's campaign of warrantless wiretapping, Senator John Cornyn debuted the now famous GOP talking point. The former Texas Supreme Court Justice announced:
"None of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead."
(With no sense of irony, Cornyn in August 2009 accused President Obama of instituting a "data collection program" in support of health care reform.)
Soon, Republican leaders were singing from the same hymnal. On February 3rd, 2006, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts, who has stonewalled the Phase II investigation into the misuses of pre-Iraq war intelligence, similarly claimed:
"You really don't have any civil liberties if you're dead."
Just days later, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) joined his colleagues in blessing President Bush's unilateral abrogation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Constitution. The failed federal judge insisted that in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, anything goes:
"Over 3,000 Americans have no civil rights because they are no longer with us."
Of course, Republicans aren't merely seizing on the TSA passenger imbroglio to embarrass President Obama. As it turns out, the dust-up is another chance for Republicans to further some of their most cherished goals.
Like more, not fewer, violations of Americans' civil liberties. While Florida Congressman John Mica is pushing for U.S. airports to turn passenger security over to private contractors, Representatives Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) and Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) have called for profiling of passengers. "Sure, profiling is okay," Hoekstra explained, adding, "You know, you do it everywhere in life - it only makes sense."
Charles Krauthammer couldn't agree more. Krauthammer is only too willing to sacrifice other peoples' rights in order to keep the government out of his junkyard:
"The only reason we continue to do this is that people are too cowed to even question the absurd taboo against profiling - when the profile of the airline attacker is narrow, concrete, uniquely definable and universally known. So instead of seeking out terrorists, we seek out tubes of gel in stroller pouches."
So much for the threat from terror babies.
No doubt, the TSA has bungled the roll-out of its new airport security measures, as even its administrator John Pistole would admit. And over just the past week, Americans' support for the full-body x-ray machines and pat downs has dropped noticeably. But as Kevin Drum and Politico suggest, the "tipping point" against the intrusive new airport screening measures will likely swing back as soon as the next underwear bomber tries to board a plane. Then, the conservative chattering classes won't be so worried about their - or anyone else's - junk.
After all, they already told us, you don't have any civil liberties when you're dead.
UPDATE: As Bob Cesca noted over at the Huffington Post, Rush Limbaugh had this to say on December 19, 2005:
"Our civil liberties are worthless if we are dead! If you are dead and pushing up daisies, if you're sucking dirt inside a casket, do you know what your civil liberties are worth? Zilch, zero, nada.