The Bush administration’s approach to airport security came under heavy bombardment yesterday from conservative critics.
Speakers at the 29th annual Conservative Action Political Conference in Arlington made it clear that their affection for the administration is tempered by concern for personal freedoms and what they called pointless intrusions on privacy.
“Please don’t misunderstand me I have great respect for this administration,” said Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association. “But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with confiscating nail clippers from grandmothers.”
Speaking to a cheering audience on the second day of CPAC, Mr. LaPierre said: “We don’t want to risk offending an Islamic ex-con with two aliases and no job, paying cash for a one-way ticket with no luggage, whose shoes are packed with plastic explosives. Who’re we fooling?
“Too many are too timid to ask what these outrages are supposed to achieve,” he said. “Too many are too polite to say that our Bill of Rights is too sacred to give up for homeland security or anything else.”
Michael Long, chairman of the New York Conservative Party, said she agreed with Mr. LaPierre that “airport security didn’t make any mistake that allowed the terrorists to take over those planes on September 11. And nothing that’s being done today would have stopped those terrorists.”
Elaine Donnelley, president of the Michigan-based Center for Military Preparedness, struck a similar note.
“National defense, yes. Homeland security, yes. Political correctness, no,” she said.
The problem is that America isn’t effectively tracking terrorists and throwing them out, Mr. Long said. “Instead, the absurd is starting to happen at the airports with the confiscation of nail clippers, corkscrews and things people use every day when they go on a vacation.”
Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, said it’s fine for the airlines to come up with a card for their employees to assure that the wrong people don’t get access to certain areas of an airport.
“If we want to require noncitizens to have a card identifying them as such, that’s fine, too,” Mr. Barr said.
But he opposed easy-access cards for American citizens simply because they are frequent flyers. That, he contended, could lead to national identification cards, which Mr. Barr, like other civil libertarians on the right and left, fear will lead to governmental usurpation of personal liberties and privacy.
“And the move toward this is something that is being started in the House and by Republicans,” Mr. Barr lamented.
This year’s CPAC, like the conservative movement itself, seemed to focus less on social issues and more on libertarian concerns.
Mr. Barr railed against what he called an “unholy alliance of bureaucrats in government and business” who set up cameras to catch those who speed or run red lights and decide who will go to jail.
He said this could lead to the kind of authoritarian system “where a government official can come up to you anywhere at anytime and demand to see your identification papers.”