Searching for Consistency

November 30, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Our department secretary flew to California last week. She said that the security lines at JFK zipped right along. Neither she nor her husband nor any of the other travelers minded the new search procedure, nor did it cause any delays. Why then did the media give so much coverage to the TSA and its antagonists during Thanksgiving week?

Pure politics. All the fuss is coming from the right. But as Ross Douthat said in his New YorkTimes column on Monday, if George W. Bush had been in office when the scanner policy came down, the same people who are whining about Big Government violating the Constitution and trampling on Privacy and Freedom would be draping the scanning machines in Old Glory.

Here’s an example of reaction on the right.

(Click on the image for a slightly larger view.)

Had Bush been President,* Drudge would have been saying that only terrorists and their allies would want to resist the TSA. And the photo would show not a nun but Osama bin Laden or the Shoe Bomber.

Douthat also guesses that liberals would have opposed the new scan and grope procedures if Bush were President. Possibly, but they certainly wouldn’t have made as much noise about it. Even now, lefty bloggers are not extolling the TSA as the thin line keeping Al Qaeda bombs from our planes. And Obama and Napolitano sound conciliatory (“Sorry, folks, but we have to do this”) rather than patriotic, pugnacious, or protective in the GOP style (“Which is worse, being patted down or blown up? Take your pick.”)

The right and left also divide over who should be searched. Conservatives favor racial profiling; liberals oppose it. But racial profiling too raises the problem of political consistency – not all by itself, but when it sits down next to Affirmative Action. As Elvin Lim wrote in Faster Times (the day before Douthat’s column in the slower Times),
It seems, then, that one can either be for race-based profiling and affirmative action, or against both. What is problematic is if one is for one but not the other.
But doctrinaire liberals and conservatives split their preferences – for one and against the other.
My guess is that most liberals are for race-based affirmative action but against racial profiling, and most conservatives are against race-based affirmative action but for racial profiling.
Lim also thinks that the consistency problem is thornier for conservatives.
For the conservative who is against race-based affirmative action but for profiling, the problem is stickier. Almost every anti-affirmative action argument I have come across turns on the principle of formal equality: that discrimination on the basis of race is wrong, no matter what the policy intentions may be. [Lim’s italics]
Greater equality and opportunity is a policy intention, so is air safety. If you’re a conservative and, like Steven Colbert, you don’t see color, if you’re for color-blind hiring and college admissions, then you should be for color-blind everything, including airport screening.

Another part of the conservative dilemma might be that conservatives have a lower tolerance for ambiguity. They prefer “moral clarity” – adherence to a simple principle. So while in practice they will hold tight to their inconsistent positions on racial profiling and affirmative action, they’ll have a harder time dealing with the cognitive dissonance.

* In fact, Bush
was President when the photo Drudge used was taken. Its from 2007. But it was of a nun being patted down, and I guess Drudge found it just too good to pass up. (See here.)

1 comment:

brandsinger said...

Ha ha - what a feel-good tangle of double-talk you've created, Jay. Is this the "gotcha!" site for bashing conservatives?

It's not that conservatives favor just "moral clarity," it's that conservatives favor CLARITY. Clarity is a good thing, Jay. Clarity of thought and writing is nothing to sneeze at.

As for race policy, the supposed inconsistency you've "caught" doesn't exist. A free and fair society with equal opportunity for all is a good thing, no? And intelligent airport security is good too, yes? No inconsistency. The conservative position is that we as a society have been loath to define and confront our true enemies -- and wind up patting down 5-year-olds and nuns instead. It was the fault of both Bush and Obama administrations. But saying so does not make it logically necessary to favor racial discrimination in higher ed.

As for your position, Jay: Whether you are "consistent" or not (favor affirmative action and favor patting down everyone including 5-year-olds and nuns) I can't say. Wrong on both issues, I can conclude: definitely.

(But politically correct as always!)