Should Republicans blame the TSA for their loss?

When Susan Verbeeck attended a rally for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney with her two daughters and a friend at the Virginia State Fairgrounds in Doswell, Va., earlier this month, she didn’t expect to be greeted by TSA agents.

But that’s exactly what she found blocking the entrance to the fair: a row of metal-detectors staffed by uniformed TSA agents.

“We’re accustomed to the TSA at airports when we travel,” she says. “But now it seems they are ubiquitous. I understand that the presidential candidates need security, but wasn’t the TSA originally formed for airport security?”

Well, that was the idea. But a look at TSA’s mission statement, which isn’t limited to air travel, means the agency could try to “protect” you anytime you set foot outside your home.

When Verbeeck’s friend was selected for a special screening, and agents started wanding him, she began snapping photos.

“An agent walked up to me waving his arm at me and told me, ‘No picture-taking allowed!’,” she remembers.

She complied, but sent me the images.

The TSA has repeatedly insisted that passengers are allowed to take photos at a checkpoint, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the screening. Perhaps the agent patting down her friend didn’t get that memo.

But so what?

I mean, stories about the TSA’s disregard for the law and its problematic mission creep are hardly new. The agency wants the money for 37 new teams of VIPR screeners like the ones who screened Verbeek and her family, at a cost to taxpayers of $100 million a year. (VIPR stands for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response team, one of the most unfortunate acronyms ever used by the federal government.)

That’s not where the story ends, though.

“As Romney was speaking about the effects and efforts of Hurricane Sandy, a man in the crowd suddenly pulled out a handmade fabric banner that read ‘End Climate Silence’ and yelled out to Romney that ‘climate change caused Sandy’,” she recalls. “The heckler was escorted out and he continued to yell on his way out the door.”

“I guess the TSA did not notice his sign,” she adds.

The conspiracy theorists among us might connect a few dots here. I’ll do the heavy lifting for you. Have a look at the Democratic and Republican platforms, and pay attention to the campaign rhetoric, and you’ll see that only one party — the Republicans — presented any kind of threat to the agency’s status quo. Romney’s party had adopted a platform that included TSA reform, and it supported privatizing large parts of the agency.

But the TSA doesn’t want to be reformed.

Last week, it ratified a union contract, which many observers believed would never happen. As an institution, it wants to expand, not be reined in and privatized.

(Disclosure: I didn’t vote for either of the major candidates, for what it’s worth.)

What would you do if you were assigned to screen supporters of a party that you knew presented a threat to your job security? If you answered: harass them, fail to properly screen them, and indirectly allow the candidate to be heckled, then congratulations — here’s your tin foil hat and your very own copy of “The X-Files: The Complete Collector’s Edition.”

Did the TSA cost the Republicans the presidency? In such a close presidential election, anything could have swayed the electorate. But I think it’s safe to say the agency didn’t exactly help.

More to the point, the TSA doesn’t belong at political rallies. Anyone familiar with the history of totalitarianism in the 20th century understands the danger of having an amorphous, paramilitary security organization with an an open-ended mission.

The next time you catch a uniformed agent outside a terminal, take a picture and send it to me with a short explanation of the circumstances. I’ll publish it. If enough Americans see this nonsense, maybe it will end.

Then again, maybe not.

  • anc1entmar1ner

    This issue is about as bipartisan as they come.

    Democrats want civil liberties. Republicans are interested in the original intent of the Constitution. Democrats say we should all enjoy universal human rights. Republicans say the government should have limited powers.

    Here’s a place where we CAN all get along. What would it take? It would take a movement where we all stop shouting at each other and direct our American outrage at an agency that is out of control. The election is over and it’s time for all the people to get to work.

    We have a Congress full of newly-elected and reelected representatives. Imagine being a new congressman, and getting 100, 200 or 500 emails this week about the TSA. Wouldn’t that make an impression?

    Let’s get going – tell your friends, your family, your coworkers. Make the TSA’s disregard for our rights the first thing on our lawmakers’ minds when they go to Washington. Keep up the pressure. And opt out every single time you fly.

  • Saul B

    Obama joked about TSA patdowns in his State of the Union address several years ago.

    He is no friend of the Fourth Amendment.

    • Saul, exactly. Neither Obomney gives a sh*t about the 4th Amendment (or several other amendments). Obama also joked about predator drones. And an entire room full of corporate media hacks laughed along.

      • CelticWhisper

        Bingo – TSA was nowhere on the radar of most candidates, and betting on Obomney to cut the legs out from under the agency is not a bet I’d make in a million years.

        Gary Johnson (for whom I was proud to vote) was the only candidate who flat-out stated that he would put the screws to TSA if he was elected. He didn’t even get close to his 5% goal.

        From hearing her speak, I believe Jill Stein would’ve eventually taken interest in TSA from a human-dignity perspective, but her focus was more on protecting protestors a la Occupy. She fared even worse than Johnson.

        Needless to say, I’m NOT happy about the outcome of this election.

  • Bob

    Make no mistake the TSA under a Romney administration would have expanded exponentially. Remember it was Governor Romney that first authorized the TSA to conduct random screenings with Boston MBTA.

    Oh and Michael Chertoff and John Bolton were some of his high level advisers.

    The devil we know is far better then the devil we almost had.

  • frostysnowman

    In my opinion, the GOP platform wanted to “reform” the TSA purely from a cost standard (privatizing it). It was not interested in changing or reforming their invasive, useless security procedures. As much as I hate the TSA, I wouldn’t give them any credit for the GOP’s loss this week. That was something the GOP members did to themselves. But let’s not let the current administration off, either. They have been responsible for overseeing the most recent abuses of power by the TSA and will not hold them accountable for anything. The only change the GOP would have made would have been to who’s paying for the abuse to continue. I had no idea the TSA was asking for more VIPR funding (which I think was a deliberately chosen acronym, not an unfortunate mistake). I shudder to think what will happen if it’s approved.

    • Daisymae

      You are so right on. The government is nothing but a bunch of greedy hogs feeding at the hog trough at the taxpayers’ expense. If the Republicans had won, it would result in nothing more than a different set of hogs at the same trough.

      And TSA provides quite a large amount of hog feed for that trough! No way the Republican hogs were planning on going on a diet! They were smacking their lips in anticipation.