I was stumbling through the Web the other day and came across some video that nicely summarized what anyone with an IQ above room temperature knows: Lou Dobbs is a paranoid lunatic. But even lunatics have moments of lucidity, and so does Dobbs. He was talking about the rising anger in the U.S. concerning the erosion of rights and government intrusion and lack of responsiveness. Jon Stewart, who was doing the interviewing on his Daily Show, essentially (and effortlessly) shredded Dobbs' arguments with a few key facts, but Dobbs' point about unfocused populist anger is correct. He just doesn't do much to put a finger on it--the argument is all heat, no light.
I can offer one small example from the world of aviation. On Friday, we reported on a TSA decision to lock out a group of hangar owners from having access to the Punta Gorda airport here in Florida. The owners are in a hangar condo configuration on private land adjacent to the airport and they arranged a through-the-fence deal to gain access to the runway using radio controlled gate openers they carry in the airplane. Simple, effective, cheap. But TSA didn't like it and shut it down, requiring a lineman from the FBO to let them in, if a lineman is indeed available. These are the same linemen who have minimal security screening, if they have any at all.
Now, is this the kind of fundamental erosion of rights that Dobbs and the tea party street people are talking about? Not really, because it isn't an erosion of basic rights. There's general agreement that access to airports is not a freedom-of-the-commons right, but a controlled privilege. Some kind of security is a necessity, even if it just keeps the animals off the runway.
What it does represent is the kind of pointless government interference that accomplishes nothing other than irritating the citizenry. It further infuriates because it's an example of a government agency or a highly-paid government official or two making a decision that defies common sense. And none of us can stomach utterly stupid behavior, even if it doesn't affect us directly.
But there's another issue: lack of balance. It's not just about blind fear of terrorism attacks against aviation, but also the need to keep our airports alive and thriving. Those pilots at Punta Gorda pay the airport for their access, they buy gas and services. Measure that against the microscopically small probability that this gate will be the weak link that allows terrorism another opportunity.
A bunch of pilots being locked out of an airport is not the moral equivalent of the French Revolution. This is not the ragged leading edge of the unraveling of western civilization. But when people like Lou Dobbs beat the drum of wild-eyed populist rage and the spittle flies, it's incidents like this that come to mind.
I suspect the pilots and the airport administration at Punta Gorda will work something out with the TSA and things will go forward. But they shouldn't have to. Our government andmore importantthe people who work in our government should do better by us. They should just be smarter, that's all. As citizens, we should insist that federal agencies stop using fear mongering as a primary tool of governance.
The continuingand maybe inevitablealternative is the sort of diffuse anger that fuels people to scream about getting their country back. After all, even lunatics are right once in awhile.