Airport Shoes

Politico had story yesterday about shoes — the ones that we’ve all had to remove at airports ever since the failed shoe bomber in December 2001. Now, I’m certainly not a security expert, but my understanding from what I read (okay, I can’t find a good James Fallows post to link to, but that’s what I mean) is that the whole thing is just foolish; there’s really no good security-based reason for removing shoes.

So why are we stuck with it? That’s easy. Once something like that gets adopted — once something like that even gets proposed — no one, and certainly no one who might ever run for re-election, wants to be in the position of having eliminated it and then wind up being the notorious clod who “caused” the deaths of innocents. You know this, but I’ll spell it out…suppose that a shoe bomb of some sort is one of, oh, 100 ways to bring down an airplane, but is also one of a dozen ways that we currently prevent. Since everyone knows about the shoe thing, that just means that a bomber will switch to one of the other ways. Should that happen, it’s no one’s fault. But if the shoe thing is repealed and then a shoe bomb is used successfully, pity the poor politician who “allowed” the terror attack. Even though, in fact, had the thing been effect the odds are that the bomber would have just used another method.

(Again, all of that depends on my understanding of issues on which I have zero expertise).

Regular readers may recall that there is in fact a mechanism available to Janet Napolitano, Barack Obama, and others who don’t want to put themselves at jeopardy for this. It’s a situation in which (if I’m understanding it correctly) everyone agrees on what should be done, but no one wants to take the credit/blame for it. The solution? A commission. Get a bunch of nameless experts together along with (bipartisan) chairs who are long retired from having to care too much about the consequences of something going wrong, and have them propose whatever new rules you want to implement.

Oh, yes: such a commission should most definitely be stacked to achieve the result that everyone wants going in. If there is no such consensus view, then the commission doesn’t work and is the wrong mechanism. Indeed, if there’s a policy which is divisive, but that the side with the votes doesn’t want the credit/blame for implementing, then it’s not going to happen, or at least it’s highly unlikely (see: closing Gitmo). But when there is a consensus, commissions can do the trick.

Indeed, the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks would be a nice time to appoint a commission to streamline security measures that have been implemented over the last ten years. Perhaps it could recommend changing the name of the Department of Homeland Security, too, but that’s probably way too much to ask.

[Cross-posted at The Monkey Cage]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.