Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (of the Paul Libertarian Blimp Empire) hates the TSA. It's his "signature issue" — his contentious questioning about the agency's aggressive security policies got him a lot of positive press among internet conservatives and libertarians last year. So must have been really excited, just, positively tumescent when TSA agents asked to pat him down this morning, and he refused. "Just got a call from @senrandpaul. He's currently being detained by TSA in Nashville," his communications director Moira Bagley Tweeted shortly after. The only thing is, though, Rand Paul was never actually "detained" by the TSA.
Despite the most fervent wishes of the libertarian conservative corner of the internet, Paul was not seized by Barack Obama's Black Panther stormtroopers and tortured for information about the supposed "gold standard": he set off the body scanner (something in his knee, apparently), which requires a pat down; he refused the pat down, and was escorted out of the security area. He took another flight later. Inconvenient? Sure. Silly? Absolutely? But Rand Paul was not detained.
Not that you could tell that to Paul's Twitter fan club, which accused the TSA of violating Article I, Section VI of the Constitution. (Get real, guys.) Even Paul's chief of staff doubled down on the stupid, self-righteous language of "detention":
Sen. Rand Paul's chief of staff Doug Stafford responded to the TSA's claim that the senator was "not detained at any point." "Well, I don't know what bureaucrat manuals call it, but: an innocent American citizen who was offering to cooperate while also attempting to stop an invasive search was not allowed to proceed without complying," Stafford said in an email to TheDC.
That sound you just heard was my eyes rolling so far back in my head that they fell out. We don't love the TSA security procedures, but let's please not embarrass ourselves by pretending that Paul did something brave or noble here, or that the TSA reacted in an unexpected or particularly troubling way. Rand Paul wasn't "detained"; the TSA is not Agent Smith; you are not Neo; and if the worst way your civil rights have ever been violated is by having your body touched by a government employee while you wait to board a plane, you are pretty lucky.
Libertarians are a people constantly in search of issues to be self-righteous about. This is the problem of a political movement about "freedom" peopled largely by white men with college degrees and above-average incomes: there's not a lot of freedom they don't already have, and not a lot of situations where their civil rights are being potentially trampled. The TSA is a wonderful thing for contemporary American libertarianism; it's one of not many places where a upper middle class Linux engineer can actually stand off against an invasive government.
But the stakes are so low and the "violation" so inconsequential that fit-throwing libertarians end up looking pathetic, even when they're basically right. Especially when they decide to invoke inaccurate language — language that could be accurately applied to civil rights injustices taking place not in the Nashville airport.
It's not that I doubt a Linux engineer or internet cartoonist or libertarian think tank employee would be similarly bold in the face of (say) militarized police attempting to enter their homes on flimsy drug warrants, it's that the war on drugs is so plainly different and worse and more pressing than an airport screening that the act of refusing a pat down, and calling it a "detention," comes across as an unbelievably petty dramatic fit instead of the imagined noble stand against an oppressive government. Couple that with the fact that TSA agents are union workers, often minorities, just trying to do their jobs, and it's really difficult to feel like this is a "stand" worth taking at all. Just let them pat you down, guy. Stop holding up the line.
And to take that already pathetic stand and then tell everyone you got "detained" when you weren't? And to complain about invasive government on your way to a pro-life rally? Man, that's just embarrassing.