Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist, an NPR commentator and a regular contributor to CNN.com
San Diego, California (CNN) -- This holiday, I'm thankful for the common sense of the American people.
Like any other group of 300 million individuals, many of them have character flaws, harbor prejudices and make their share of mistakes. But, in most cases, they're enterprising, optimistic, resilient and generous. And while they try to be fair and reasonable, many also know where to draw the line.
They want to support teachers and give public schools the tools they need to succeed, even if it means passing new bond measures. But when they feel that teachers' unions are holding up necessary reforms to serve their own interests, they will rise up.
They recognize their immigrant tradition and acknowledge the benefits of legal immigration. But when they feel that people are taking advantage by coming into the country illegally and then arrogantly making demands once they arrive, they will object.
They want to see their president succeed and their country continue to thrive. But when they feel things have gone off course, they will band together and vote out of office those lawmakers who refuse to put the brakes on that agenda to make room for replacements who will.
And, in an example likely to be chewed over today at many dinner tables across America, while they are concerned about airline safety and recognize that federal officials have a difficult job on their hands, when they see that some of those officials seem to be abandoning common sense and abusing their power in ways that humiliate passengers and make air travel an unpleasant experience, they will complain.
When John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration, asked Americans to be patient amid an outcry over invasive security procedures, polls showed that most Americans were willing to comply and give the government the benefit of the doubt. In some polls, four out of five Americans support the scanners. There is much less support for pat-down searches. A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll found that nearly six in 10 air travelers are bothered or angered by the pat downs.
You can blame it on the parade of horror stories. Cancer survivors in particular didn't seem to fare well at the security check-in. In one case, a TSA agent made a cancer victim remove her prosthetic breast. In another, an agent ruptured a plastic bag and soaked a bladder cancer survivor with his own urine.
The feds were just warming up. They crossed the line when they started treating children as potential security risks. Particularly egregious was a videotaped incident at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah on November 19 in which a young boy appeared to be strip-searched by TSA inspectors while attempting to board a flight with his parents. The boy is shown shirtless with his arms extended, undergoing a pat down by a TSA officer. Judging from the remarks of onlookers, which were overheard on the tape, and the comments of those who posted responses on CNN.com and other websites that featured the story, many Americans were outraged by the spectacle.
As well they should have been. According to the individual who uploaded the video, the boy walked through the metal detector and didn't set it off, but he was selected for a pat-down search anyway. If true, this was the screener's first mistake.
TSA officials scrambled to do damage control, and give their side of the story. "Blogger Bob" of the "TSA Blog Team" pointed out that "the boy's father removed his son's shirt in an effort to expedite the screening" and that "the father was standing by his son for the entire procedure."
So what? What "Blogger Bob" left out of the story was that the father was, according to witnesses, visibly exasperated and enraged by the screening and this is probably why he removed his son's shirt. What officials should have done at that point is instruct both father and son that this wouldn't be necessary and discreetly move them out of the way for further screening.
We're all for public safety and protecting lives, but cases like this make you wonder: Whatever happened to good judgment and common sense?
That's what many Americans want to know. It's a question that they're likely to ask again and again during this holiday travel season and one that merits an answer. Given what we know about the spirit of the American people, federal officials shouldn't expect a moment's peace until they come up with one.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.