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From the Tea Party to TSA, Cries for Government Yield Backlash From the Tea Party to TSA, Cries for Government Yield Backlash

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From the Tea Party to TSA, Cries for Government Yield Backlash

The call for emergency assistance from Washington often leads to antigovernment fervor.


A TSA officer stands next to the first Advanced Imaging Technology unit during a demonstration at a John F. Kennedy International Airport passenger security checkpoint in October.(Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

It's hard to believe that just nine years ago, it seemed that everyone wanted the government to take over airport passenger screening. 

In the days after 9/11, filled with countless replays of the twin towers collapsing and Mohamed Atta and other hijackers walking past hapless security guards, politicians of all stripes and citizens everywhere demanded tougher screening and an end to having it performed by low-paid, private contractors. The people got what they wanted, and although there have been some close calls since--most notably the infamous "underwear bomber" who tried to take out a plane last year--no passenger plane has been blown up or turned into a missile. 


There's a familiar pattern here. A crisis arises, citizens demand government action, politicians comply, and, even if the policies are largely successful, a backlash ensues. This happened in the case of the Transportation Security Administration, whose various measures to keep ahead of terrorists--snatching water bottles, confiscating toenail clippers, patting down Grandma--have been both effective and supremely annoying.

With the Great Recession, there was a hue and cry to stop the economic collapse. The measures that followed--the Troubled Asset Relief Program proposed and passed under President Bush and the auto bailout that began on his watch; President Obama's stimulus package--all seemed to halt, or at least slow, the economic collapse, although the debates about their efficacy will surely go on. The larger point is that the people got what they wanted, and even when it seems to have worked--General Motors, for example, has come roaring back to life--there's outrage about government overreaching. 

Franklin Roosevelt would have recognized this. His policies to end the Depression were wildly popular at first, and then met backlash. He lost more congressional seats in the 1938 midterms than the Democrats did in 2010, and the courts picked apart many of his initiatives. The backlash against government rescue measures is nothing new. 


The TSA's parent, the Homeland Security Department, was formed in the days after 9/11, when politicians called for greater coordination in the battle against terrorists. The result is a department so big and sprawling, including everything from the TSA to the Secret Service to the Border Patrol, that the idea of dismantling it doesn't seem crazy. 

In a country with a libertarian streak and yet a vast desire to have government provide cushions for everyday life, from Social Security to defense to student loans, we're bound to be of two minds about Washington. The latest TSA mess proves that once again. 

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