Political cartoonists saw the future when the Transportation Security Administration was created nearly a decade ago. Drawings of nude passengers enduring security screenings and boarding jetliners were good for a laugh in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
But those cartoons aren't funny anymore. Not when intrusive new security measures at the country's airports have proved, once again, that satire is dead.
Today's fliers must choose between a full-body scan, which amounts to an electronic strip search, or a pat down that verges on sexual assault. The stepped-up measures have made security lines longer -- just in time for holiday travel.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, in a commentary published in Monday's USA Today, assured Americans she has an "open ear" for constructive criticism, but cynically told complainers they're always free to choose other forms of travel. As though driving from Las Vegas to San Francisco or Houston is an option for one day of business.
Passenger advocates, airline employee unions and politicians are enraged, saying the TSA has gone too far. Many fliers want no part of being seen in their birthday suits or having their groins and breasts groped.
A widely viewed blog posting by traveler John Tyner, featuring a recording from his cellphone, perfectly captured citizen anger with the new screenings. In it, Mr. Tyner refuses the scan and warns a TSA agent about to pat him down, "If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."
The public's outrage is also rooted in the pointlessness of the procedures. Americans know that feeling up grandmothers and toddlers won't stop the next aspiring Islamic underwear bomber.
"There's a very strong sense right now that the public attitude on the airport body scanner program has swung dramatically," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which is suing the TSA to shut down the scanners. EPIC is also urging all air travelers to refuse full-body scans the day before Thanksgiving and insist that pat downs be performed in front of other passengers.
Extraordinary measures should be reserved for reasonable suspicions.