Tampa. Where’s the festal atmosphere one looks for at a political convention? Here at the 2012 Republican National Convention, there are a few impediments to achieving that Good Feeling, that glow of bonhomous enthusiasm that, I should have thought, the organizers would have sought to instill in the madding crowds that are descending on the event.
What are those impediments? They can be divided into two basic categories: meteorological and megalomaniacal.
The meteorological has just swept through in the form of Hurricane Isaac. The apocalyptic hysteria emanating from the weather channels seems to have been, once again, completely overblown (pardon the pun), at least for Tampa, but there is a goodly amount of rain beating down upon us as I write. Most of today’s events have been rescheduled for later in the week and there is a general air of discombobulation. What Isaac will mean for points West and North is still up in the air (literally, I suppose) and is providing grounds for the usual weather hysteria machine to grind away. Will it be another Katrina, swamping New Orleans? All the news channels keep asking that. But what I’d like to know is, let’s say Isaac is another Katrina, will the media blame Barack Obama as it once blamed George W. Bush for the hurricane? And, even more, why in heaven’s name did someone build a city below sea level on the Gulf of Mexico, or, once built, why did they leave it there?
We know the answer to the first and we'll never get a satisfactory answer to the second, so let me proceed to the other main reason the mood in Tampa is less than celebratory: megalomania. It’s not your common or garden-variety megalomania, I hasten to add, but is rather a compound of watching too many television dramas about terrorism, on the one hand, and what I suspect is Chicago-style political tactics, on the other.
What I am talking about is the preposterous level of security that greets the visitor to the convention, even the credentialed press visitor, whose grumbling ranks I am helping to swell. Many streets in downtown Tampa are closed. The event is taking place not in one but in two separate buildings, a convention center and the Forum. I’d guess they are about a quarter of a mile from each other. The entire area surrounding the buildings is cordoned off with a maze of high fences and security check points and patrolling guards from, I’m told, 60 separate law-enforcement agencies. I’ve seen scores of Secret Service agents, FBI agents, state troopers, military soldiers, local policemen, and TSA agents. They’re on foot, on bicycles, on horse back, aboard golf carts, in SUVs, and God-knows what else. It took my party about 40 minutes to get into the Forum for a media gathering last night, not because there were long lines — those will come later — but because we had to park about three quarters of a mile from the building and then walk through a warren of security checks. One friend told me he’d been through 5 separate checks before he was let in and handed a lukewarm Coors Light. “Never seen anything like it,” said this veteran of several national political conventions.