The PJ Tatler

Welcome to Tampa, a First World City that has Assumed a Third World Posture

Years ago when I was stationed in Japan, I visited the tiny Indian Ocean nation called Maldives. It’s a beautiful string of atolls set in an azure sea, so remote that it takes hours to get there from anywhere and each island is at least an hour boat ride from every other island in the group. It’s almost incomprehensibly tiny, but during a stroll through the capital, Male, I saw one major difference between a free society like ours and a less free society like Maldives: There were armed troops all over the city. They were on street corners. They were down alleyways. They were all around the presidential mansion. The Maldivian troops, armed with AK-47s, were just everywhere. You. Looked.

Last night, walking back from the Tampa Bay Times Forum to our car after an event, I got the sense of being back in Male. Or maybe Baghdad circa 2007.

It’s not just the steamy heat sitting over Tampa thanks to Isaac, that gives the place a foreign feel. Here in Tampa, some 60 different law enforcement agencies are present. These agencies include everything from the Secret Service to the National Guard to the Postal Inspectors, and local and state police from all over. We even spotted a staging area/bivouac under a bridge that must have included at least 100 military troops readying for the convention. Together these agencies have pushed the security perimeter for the convention so far back that you cannot park anywhere near the places you need to be. Just getting into either the convention or the forum requires a trek across several barricade-strewn blocks. Once you’re at the convention center, TSA is there to inspect your bags and your person before you can enter.

So nothing around here will move very fast. Few conventioneers will enjoy the oppressive atmosphere. That may be the sneaky point of it all. If you’re a local, and you need to get downtown this week, you won’t be happy about much of anything you see.

Not that I’m complaining, really. We’ve all gotten used to so much security that we can’t really remember well what life was like before 9-11. I’d rather see security troops and check points than get blown away by some fool’s idea of direct political action.

But there’s irony to all this. The federal government is treating the convention as a national security event. It is responding to threats from at least one source and maybe two. The known source causing this reaction is the assortment of groups — Anonymous, the anarchists, and so forth that comprise the red and yellow parts of the green-yellow-red factions of the anti-GOP protesters — that are threatening real harm in order to destroy the convention.  Anonymous is even threatening to hack and shut down emergency services during Isaac, which would hurt far more people than just those here for the convention. The anarchists’ threats have turned laid back Tampa, Florida into a full-blown police state.

Do you think the anarchists will ever understand what they’ve done? Do you suppose it’ll ever dawn on them?

There’s a second irony as well. The same administration that, on the one hand isn’t very interested in securing our border, and on the other hand is very interested in not securing our elections via voter photo ID, is imposing a truly extraordinary amount of security here. You cannot go into the convention at all without your credentials. You won’t get past the first check point, many blocks away from the events. If you even look like you’re heading down the wrong path, you’ll get a verbal warning or, at night, blinding bright lights in your face warning you away. It’s all every bit as intimidating as it is meant to be.

All of this, so that some of us can exercise our constitutional rights to peaceably assemble and speak their minds, and others of us can enjoy the benefits of a free press and report on it all.

More: Roger Kimball

I have no idea who is ultimately responsible for the unpleasant and unnecessary security nightmare that has been assembled in Tampa. Knowing the Obama administration as I do, I would not put it past them to have had a hand in in it.  But before the Republican love fest starts in earnest — and let me say I am intending to emit as much good cheer as anyone — it is worth pausing to acknowledge that the unseemly growth of government is as much a Republican problem as it is a Democratic problem.  Of course, one needs to be careful. We live in a dangerous world. There are a lot of bad guys out there who mean us, and our leaders, ill. But the most effective security is usually the least obtrusive. Over the last couple of decades we have let our politicians arrogate more and more of the trappings of despotic power to themselves. It’s unattractive and, I’d say, downright un-American.  I hope that when Mitt Romney becomes President, he will do something about it.