Most of the Twin Cities' temporary population packed up their suits, filed their business cards, and put wheels up at the airport early this morning. I stuck around to work and take in some of those alleged "sights" that had been separated from us by a whole lot of steel fences and a whole lot more cops. Cruising down the highway, looking for my exit, I spotted one of the boys in blue (in yellow jacket and black riot gear, if you want to get all specific) swinging his arm, directing us to move away from the exit and into the fast lane. I did. As we passed the exit, I did what the cars in front of me were doing and slid back into the slow lane.
Deja vu—I thought I saw that cop again. I did see that cop again! He was right next to me, hand-chopping and pointing like an extra in Return of the Dragon, demanding that I pull over. "Stay there!" he said. I stayed there for about 15 minutes until he came back. "Did you see me back there?" Gulp. I did. "You were not allowed to stay in this lane. I'm going to let you off. But the next officer you see, you do what he says. OK? All right?" OK, all right.
The police presence in St. Paul was striking, far more pervasive than that of Denver. While Denver's Pepsi Center was surrounded by a huge perimeter fence, nothing inside but the convention, media tents, parking, and a CNN Grill, the St. Paul XCel Energy Center (and its appendenges) were blocked off from the rest of the city with a labyrinth of gates, some opening out next to bars, some opening out onto busy streets. You could see a friend on one side of a fence and walk ten minutes to find the exit that let you join him. While you did so, cops would leer as if you were smuggling a kilo of china white stuffed inside of novelty dynamite sticks.
The cops were only nominally there to protect the speakers. Anybody worth John Wilkes Booth-ing was in D.C., "leading" on Hurricane Gustav. Mostly, the cops were there to protect us all from the protesters. It was the most absurd over-application of force since Xerxes says "screw it, how about 10 more legions?" at Thermopylae.
But that's just the way everyone liked it. The protesters were mildly put out by the fines they had to pay when they got arrested. Other than that, fantastic! They wanted to get arrested. They wanted to shame the Republicans, and failing that, to be able to say to their friends that they'd shamed the Republicans. And they fed the media. Alt weeklies and left-wing radio had a drama to uncover, ready-made proof of the police state's rottenness. Fox News, blasting from every bar and from a Blade Runner-worthy enormoscreen that leered above the security perimeter had an easy story to cut back to every day. The most surreal moment of the convention for me was walking past that screen, seeing a report on "the protesters moving towards the stadium," and seeing… nothing.
The protesters and the Paulistas were engaging in a more apparent, more low-key version of what Republicans had this week and Democrats had last week. They were acting out, proving to themselves that there's a reason for their boiling political anger. It was a little less obvious with the Democrats, if only because they're running the less pessimistic campaign this year. But you could see it in the way their candidates framed their speeches and their biographies. Joe Biden isn't the word salad-tossing blowhard who's reigned Washington since the original release of Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. He's a scrappy kid from Scranton, who grits his teeth about this here Bush economy as you are every time he boards the train to work. Sarah Palin isn't an amiable social conservative with a resume shorter than that of John Edwards. She's a hockey mom! Why do you hate hockey moms?
It's never going to make sense watching a made-for-TV-event from the inside. I understand that the Clinton's solipsistic speeches, Obama's monster truck rally, and Palin's just-follow-the-script bash-o-thon played great in living rooms. Behind the cameras, you see the results of taking politics too seriously: tens of thousands of people engaging in voluntary resentment, fantasizing about the use of state power, and calling themselves part of movements.
See you in four years! Bring more flags.
And if you want to chew it over some more, consider this the weekly political thread.
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