Kevin makes a fairly good point here that I would extend slightly to say that it’s not only unpopular to argue that we should just give up looking for total security. That argument is also an incredibly lopsided risk. It costs almost nothing to argue for one more incremental security measure. If nothing happens, great! Take a little credit. If something terrible does happen then at least you tried. On the flip side arguing that we should rein some security measure back a bit pays off (barely) when nothing bad happens but will blow up in your face if a bad guy sneaks through the gap that you made.
Few people remember that Republicans spent most of recent history arguing against what we would now call the War on Terror. Bin Laden was a Clinton issue. Fighting ragtag bandits with police seemed beneath their attention when a grand wars could be won against swarthy, moustached Hitlers. These days nobody mentions Grover Norquist’s close ties to shady middle eastern power brokers, nor his quid-pro-quo advocating on their behalf. The media collectively agreed to forget that the hijackings forced Condoleeza Rice to cut short a summer-long speaking tour wherein she argued forcefully that, contra some pesky disgruntled loudmouth named Richard Clarke, America must focus her security attention on Iraq rather than some skinny Saudi in a cave.
One could say that Republicans embraced security with the zeal of a convert. One could even be ungenerous and say that they overcompensated a bit. And that is the risk when you argue against taking measures to deal with some problem. If the danger then catches you napping you can do the honorable thing, apologize and resign, but if that runs counter to your instincts then the only other real option is to go complete bloody-shirt apeshit and attack anyone who had it right if he or she declines to follow the herd to apeshitville.
None of this means that we should not try to keep the security state within sensible boundaries. We call it ‘terrorism’ and not something mundane like ‘murderism’ because the point is to scare us into overreacting. Fear makes people stupid. It makes strong countries weak by herding them into bad decisions. We really should step back and give the whole program (example: semi-random “suck on this” wars of occupation) a rational cost/benefit analysis. However, as I see it the security state, even idiotic and/or counterproductive parts of it, are most likely a one-way ratchet. To break out of that cycle you need one hell of a leader*, someone on the level of a Nelson Mandela or a Mohandas Gandhi, and I wish that I could say I saw one of those on the horizon.
(*) A crippling and near-total humbling, either economically or of the military kind, also tends to work; for selfish reasons I’d prefer to find an alternative.