Monday, November 29, 2010

Back Again - Security Theater in Partisan Politics

I haven't been able to update in the last week, as I'm currently in the process of moving (physically, like between two states). Luckily, nothing really is going on in the world. The economic and logistical impact of TSA opt-out day was predictably marginal--perhaps a new word, fringical, would better describe its political roots. There's a decent James Fallows piece on the myth of party-first response to security theater, privacy rights, and an intrusive state.

His main takeaway is that while individuals on the conservative end of the spectrum may have recently found a reason to hate airport security, the same liberals who grumbled about earlier iterations (remember when they banned books on planes for a couple weeks?) have not begun to support the government out of partisan fealty to the President. Whereas Fallows seems to say that conservatives are more susceptible to partisanship dictating moral outrage, I think the truth is that the conservative media was not interested in discussing the intrusive indignities of the modern state while Bush was in control. The individuals who are up in arms about "enhanced" security procedures may have been provoked to equal outrage and activism had they had earlier access to "intrusive state" stories in the media.

I think liberal blogs tend to assume that their readers have a certain baseline familiarity with the intrusiveness of the state, but conservative storytellers start at the beginning, as if the entire outrage were wholly new. This is just a guess, but maybe liberals do themselves a disservice when they frame new developments--in any field from airport security to tax cuts--as the latest in a long string of similar stories.

Example: the Party of No. The narrative that the Democratic party attempted to spin over the last two years was that Republicans were consistently putting politics before country. That message never broke through to the mass audience, largely because saying "Republicans blocked progress again" is hardly news. "Republicans Launch Filibuster of X" is a bigger headline when the drumbeat for weeks hasn't been, "Republicans Will Probably Do Everything They Possibly Can to Block X." The blogs telling the anti-TSA story right now are telling their audiences about the screening as if the use of full body screeners wasn't a long time in the making. Maybe liberals need to learn to play dumb.

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