To Profile, or Not to Profile

One reason Congress isn't popular is because it reeks of hypocrisy...and Jim McDermott stinks.

Though we might disagree on issues, voters generally respect politicians who take principled stands.  McDermott seems to be principled, but on the issue of profiling, the emperor of Washington's 7th Congressional District has no clothes.

McDermott requested that the FBI's "Faces of Global Terrorism" posters be removed from Seattle buses, arguing that they could cause racial and religious profiling.  The "faces" were of known terrorists from regions as disparate as the U.S., the Philippines, Malaysia, Africa, and Chechnya. 

One could argue McDermott's point while respecting his position. But what deserves ridicule is his selective condemnation of profiling practices.  Indeed, where proven that it actually led to disparate treatment, such as the IRS's diabolical use of so-called "Be on the Lookout" (BOLO) lists, the eccentric liberal goes all wobbly. 

Let's see how McDermott wobbled when the reality of profiling rudely confronted his illiberal sensibilities.        

Leaders from across the political spectrum expressed concern over IRS tactics to profile political groups seeking tax-exempt status.  Concern escalated to condemnation from liberals and conservatives when it became apparent that the IRS then targeted groups who fit a specific profile. 

McDermott didn't join the righteous chorus; rather, he was shrieking off-key when he taunted victims of IRS targeting at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on June 5.   Teetering on the edge of Machiavellian trickery, he downplayed the disparate treatment of groups who sought tax-exempt status.  Here is just one of his bewildering statements to confounded victims of the IRS: "I get the feeling that many of you, and my Republican colleagues, just don't believe that you should be free from any political targeting, but that you should be free from scrutiny at all."

It's seems McDermott tolerates profiling and scrutiny of political groups whose values he doesn't share.  So far, this suggests that he's comfortable on the on the periphery of respectable political discourse, safe in the ideological echo chamber that is the liberal district he serves.  But it gets worse.

On June 19, McDermott seemed to change his tune on profiling.  He sent a letter to FBI director Robert Mueller requesting removal of the "Faces of Global Terrorism" poster ads on Seattle buses.  McDermott penned this: "[the] ad featuring sixteen photos of wanted terrorists is not only offensive to Muslims and ethnic minorities, but it encourages racial and religious profiling."

McDermott then really strained common sense: "The FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List includes individuals of other races and associated with other religions and causes, but their faces are missing from this campaign."  Actually, only two of the thirty-two people on the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorist List" don't have connections to Islam -- about 6 percent.  The offensive posters had 16 faces, so a representative list might include half a face of a non-Islamic terrorist.

So far, McDermott is not particularly stinky; rather, he's just a typical duplicitous politician.  But it gets worse.

On June 27, McDermott wobbled into another IRS hearing in Congress, where he had an epiphany: profiling is tolerable again.  Indeed, it should be encouraged. He said: "I don't think BOLO lists should be thrown out... We think that's the way you organize your thinking. And it is clear to me that a Be On the Look Out list is a good idea."

This is getting complicated, even for a cunning politician.  It's like being for profiling (BOLO lists) after being against profiling (terrorists), before which he was for profiling (conservative groups). 

My brain is starting to wobble, but I can follow this: McDermott criticized the FBI's well-intentioned ads because they could encourage racial and religious profiling.  One can debate whether it was profiling, but it seems a principled stance.  One can postulate that it's justified if 94% of the terrorists on the FBI's list are from one religion.  But it's manifestly unreasonable to pretend that IRS BOLO lists are not an exercise in profiling -- especially since they actually led to targeting based on political profiles.

On an issue which begs for moral consistency, McDermott's views on profiling seem to be written on an Etch-a-Sketch.  This is hypocrisy, and a reason why Congress's approval rating is a measly 14% on average.  

McDermott represents most of Seattle, which ranks high on "Smart City" lists.  Most Seattleites appreciate a vibrant marketplace of diverse ideas, but they also adhere to intellectual honesty.

If you experience technical problems, please write to