Shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, with steely resolve, we worked together to make sure the terrorists did not win. We got back on airplanes, went shopping, and went to war. Our nation united as we hadn’t since the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy.
But I wonder if the 2001 attacks, while at first uniting us, set us on a path which is robbing us of our greatness. Put another way, are our efforts to prevent terrorism hurting us in many other ways? I think so.
Apparently I am not alone. This week, Congressman Ron Paul, took to the floor of the House of Representatives to decry the intrusive pat downs of airline passengers by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport personnel. The YouTube video of this Congressional speech not only received some 100,000 views but even more amazingly 100 times as many viewers scored it with “like” compared to the few who voted “dislike.”
Since when do Americans respond so strongly and near unanimously to a floor speech by a relatively controversial Member of Congress? Representative Paul struck a chord with Americans frustrated that we have given up so much because of the 2001 terrorism. It’s not that the TSA security agents are not doing their best to do their job — it’s that we have become stupid.
When Midwestern grandmothers and eight-year-old boys get genital pat downs, the terrorists have won. When we target every traveler and don’t screen based on the probability of a person being a terrorist like the Israelis do, then the terrorists have won.
But it’s not just about the inconveniences of travel and the phenomenal costs and delays caused by these demographically blind security techniques. We have hurt our country since 2001 by shutting our borders to the best and brightest students who used to clamor to attend our universities, to the highly educated and the wealthy immigrants who create jobs and to entrepreneurs worldwide who used to come here to live the American Dream.
Moreover, we hurt our heavy equipment manufacturing businesses when international customers cannot get visas to inspect equipment, we hurt our small companies using U.S. trade shows to sell internationally when we deny foreign buyers visas, and we hurt job creation when we discourage business from being done in the United States.
This is not about illegal immigration: it is about shutting out the students, entrepreneurs and businesses that have traditionally fueled our economy and created American jobs. U.S. State Department employees worldwide know that it is always safer to deny visa requests, and they deny visas prolifically.
The terrorists are winning as they have mired us in two unwinnable wars where the enemies cannot be seen, the countries have historically been ungovernable, and the Afghan and Iraqi citizens view us with everything from bewilderment to hostility. Our wonderful soldiers are giving life and limb and suffering for an uncertain objective where success is hard to measure and a real exit is unclear.
The terrorists are winning as we rack up our spending on our security and these wars while our students go to four-day weeks because we cannot afford to keep our schools open.
I believe in American exceptionalism and I am grateful for the sacrifices so many have made and are making in the name of our security and freedom. But Americans are exceptional in part because we are honest with ourselves.
Lately though we have been delusional. While we have maintained physical safety in the United States, we have gone to war, given up our rights, lost jobs, and spent our way into a hole in the name of homeland security. As top U.S. Defense Department officials recently noted, our deficit is now our greatest domestic threat. We need to preserve our economy, and grow our jobs. Responding to every type of terrorist possibility will freeze us in fear, deprive us of our greatness, and hand a greater victory to the terrorists.
It’s time to return to sanity. Screen passengers based on threat. Rely on each other. Encourage the best and brightest to come here. Support American business. Stop wasting our resources, and start investing in our children.
The terrorists cannot and should not win.
Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents more than 2,000 U.S. technology companies.