Not sure when a republic crosses line into empire, but the militarization of security at party conventions is probably a leading indicator.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) August 27, 2012
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.
So the question is, Why? Why is the RNC doing this? Or, more to the point, is it the RNC that is doing this? There was a rumor abroad that the stepped-up security (it reminded one ex-military observer of Bagdhad) was not the RNC’s doing but the federal government’s. Anarchists, you see, had threatened to disrupt the proceedings, so someone declared the event a national security emergency and clamped down hard.
What sort of threat do the anarchists actually pose? you might ask. I asked, and haven’t gotten much of a reply. … The security arrangements at the convention are over the top, onerous, and almost comic in their look-at-me,-I’m-wearing-SWAT-gear swagger. But maybe the most disconcerting aspect of the affair is the two-tier, us-and-them, plebs-and-elites aroma that suffuses the event. Almost everyone is herded, cattle-like, through the security maze. Anyone who is let into the fenced-in enclosure has a bouquet of badges hung around his neck. But some few have badges that bear the legend “perimeter access,” and they get special treatment. A tiny elite is ostentatiously whisked through on golf carts or in limos, just as they are in various Latin American or Soviet-era despotisms. It’s the ostentation of the disparity that rankles.