TAMPA – The single most shameful thing about major-party political conventions? As Peter Suderman pointed out this morning, it's that the same hard-bitten Americans that are serially invoked from the podium involuntarily pay more than $100 million for this week-long celebration of lawyer-millionaires who have engaged in the ultimate noble sacrifice of raising large sums of money so that they can lie to everybody in order to receive the privilege of forcing still other unwilling taxpayers to part with their own money for things they don't want to pay for.
The second most shameful thing?
This unworthy (but not non-newsworthy) spectacle, this family reunion of the political/journalistic/activist/lobbyist class that makes Washington, D.C. such a fun place to move from, is protected from the rabble by more security checkpoints with more firepower than you'd see 20 years ago crossing Yugoslavia by train. I am pretty sure that Jonah Goldberg and Jon Voight and Sheriff Joe Arpaio and David Brooks and Rick Santorum and Ana Marie Cox and my other dear, dear friends could survive an all-out assault by the entire assembled ranks of the Red Chinese Army on this Tampa bunker without having to so much as forgo a free barcalounger massage in the Google Cafe. I have lost count trying to keep up with the number of state, local, federal, and black-ops law enforcement agencies represented anywhere in downtown Tampa you have the misfortune to walk.
This isn't a complaint about inconvenience (which hasn't been at all bad), but rather a cry of WTF?
Is there any reason on God's green earth that we should spend so much money to give the illusion that my comrades-in-bullshit are so precious to the body politic that they require an East German politburo-style police protection, only with sunnier dispositions and better firepower?
And what of those non-credential-holding Americans who feel misused by the powers inside and want to register complaint? So far here they've amounted to a couple of straggly Ron Paul types, your odd Jesus freak, small groups of maybe five abortion/health care activists, an immigration reformer or two, a cheery Scientologist, and a homeless encampment called "Romneyville" far away from where I type. Usually at these things you have to run a gauntlet of angry, semi-coherent performance artists after escaping the political class's Green Zone; here you might find a quiet pro-immigration activist and a guy selling pins. I don't blame them one bit: They are ants against the Fortress, and the world's biggest can of Raid is on the other side. Plus, have you seen the August weather in Tampa?
Which leads to the third and final shameful thing, since Rule of Three and all that: We have simply gotten used to this; it's the new normal. Well, it shouldn't be.
Nearly three decades ago, Jim Jarmusch made a great film for a less-great but still-interesting reason: He wanted to portray America through the eyes of East Bloc immigrants in the gritty, black-and-white way that Hollywood tended to portray communist Europe to us Yanks. Well, my fellow American credential-holders, imagine yourselves not as privileged insiders participating in a noble democratic experiment, but rather as outsiders visiting a strange and foreign land. How would you describe this odd, lifeless, and gratuitously over-armed compound?
Having lived in a couple of countries plagued by parachuting American journos, I do not have any doubt about the phrasing. They would gaze upon these machine guns, these drug-sniffing dogs, these snipers on the rooftop, these X-ray machines, these bins filled with water bottles and umbrellas, and these Escape From New York-style outsiders scratching lamely on the chain link fences outside, and they would declare with all journalistic objectivity that this strange country is a goddamned police state.