Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pleading the Fourth

When I first moved to Washington, I worked for a man who grew up in Vienna in the 1930s. This wouldn't sound so bad, except that he was Jewish, and one day toward the end of that decade, the Nazis next door decided to take over.

Contrary to what you might believe, all the Jews didn't just get up and walk out of Austria right away. Not to worry, they told themselves. They were certainly aware that Hitler didn't like them. They just didn't believe he would take take things too far. Even after he started, the exodus wasn't as great as it could have been. Too many of them were convinced that they were safe, that if only they behaved, they would be okay. They simply could not believe they were in any real trouble, until it was too late.

We tend to forget that Hitler didn't rise to power by force. He was elected by the majority of the German population. (Interestingly, this was one promoter of a holocaust who didn't win "the Catholic vote," but that's another story.) He promised prosperity and security to a desperate nation, and he made good on his promise. But not without a cost.

Today, roughly two-thirds of Americans agree with the current security measures at the Nation's airports, including radioactive scans that require every passenger to be seen naked by an unknown person, and random "enhanced pat-downs" that require the handling of the private parts of one's anatomy (which most of us have been referring to as "junk," already a bad sign). No known expert on airport security has gone on record to state that these measures are either effective or necessary, and none of the would-be terrorists foiled since 9/11 have been caught through the use of these aggressive methods. But it did inspire to put together this really great chart.

Not to worry, we tell ourselves. We certainly don't like repeated exposure to radiation that even makes our dentist go into the next room. Nor do we enjoy being fondled by a complete stranger. (Well, not usually.) We just don't believe anyone will take things too far. Even after the start of it, the resistance is not as great as it could be. Too many of us are convinced that we will be safe, that if only we behave, we will be okay. We simply cannot believe we are in any real trouble, until ...

The founders of these United States vested the powers of government in a Constitution. But they knew from the reading of human history, where too much power in the hands of too few would lead. So they amended that Constitution with a Bill of Rights, to acknowledge the rights already ensured to man through the natural law, and to keep those powers in check. They include protection from unreasonable search and seizure. To wit, the Fourth of those amendments reads thus:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Now, thirty years ago this month, I took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. It's the same oath taken by those goose-steppers of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But unlike some of them, I don't have a choice between degrading my fellow man and pulling security guard duty at the mall. (And let's not forget that great retirement plan the Feds have, while they still have it.) That's why, the next time I go through the scanner, I'll feel the security and comfort of a pair of high-quality boxer briefs, with the text of the Fourth Amendment printed in magnetic ink, in a place where certain people are sure not to miss it.

I don't want trouble any more than the next guy. I just love my country that much.

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