Politics & Policy

Security Up — and Down — The Wazoo

Convention complaints.


If the convergence of corporate influence and journalistic decadence continues apace I fully expect to wake up any day now on some cool marble floor under a brass sign which reads “This Vomitorium Brought To You By AT&T.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with corporate sponsorship per se, but you do get the sense that if he could get away with it, GW would walk out to the podium tonight in one of those Nascar jumpsuits with “Penske” and “Enjoy Coke” patches all over his body. And there’s nothing wrong with journalistic decadence, though when I cough I’m afraid I might bring up my liver.

The host committee, according to sources I’ve overheard in hotel lobbies and at adjacent urinals, has raised an astounding amount of money for this year’s convention. This has been confirmed by other journalists who work hard collecting facts but are misguided enough to share them with me. Indeed, I’ve heard that this convention costs three times what the 1996 San Diego convention cost. It seems fair to the City of Brotherly Love and Chain-smoking Cops to ask whether the GOP’s getting its money’s worth.

The obvious comparison to the 1996 convention is, of course, the weather. San Diego featured an endless succession of crisp, warm, breezy, beautiful blue-sky days. The weather here is a bit different. The smell, humidity, and temperature could only be recreated in Al Sharpton’s armpit. Indeed, no doubt compounded by nearly constant hangovers, I have woken up every morning feeling like Sharpton had me in a headlock the night before while he blew cigarette smoke in my face. Even if you don’t become soaked in sweat walking the streets, the fact that every corner has a dozen cops drenched in sweaty misery always serves as a reminder of the oppressive heat.

Speaking of the cops, they are working very, very hard and I feel nothing but sympathy and admiration for them. I sympathize with them because they must tolerate — under a hot sun and in miserable humidity — constant taunts and harassment from people who in a more enlightened time we would call gutless punks.

I admire them for their professionalism and most of all for their restraint. The “protesters” have been trying to goad the cops into using excessive force and they haven’t taken the bait, even when physically attacked. Four cops had an as-yet-unidentified red liquid thrown in their eyes, though some reports seem to suggest that urine may have been part of the cocktail. The one bright side is that the offending youths are locked up and there are only two days left before the cameras leave town and the cops’ happy faces come off.

But both the protesters and the weather are largely out of the GOP’s control — though the last time a cool breeze blew through Philly in early August was when woolly mammoths were running from errant glaciers in the last ice age.

The First Union Center, where the convention is being held, is, simply, very, very far away. If you go there, you must totally commit to going there, because there’s no turning back. This explains why I spent much of yesterday in my hotel room watching Ghostbusters on HBO.

But if you do choose to attend the convention, you must run a gauntlet of security measures which, if they had been adopted by the Department of Energy a year ago, would have saved Bill Richardson’s prospects for the vice-presidential slot. You would think they were looking for weapons-grade plutonium, from the degree of constant scrutiny being leveled against nice old Republican ladies in sequined-elephant hats. There are, literally, credential checkpoints at the bottom of each escalator and at the top of each escalator — as if some rogue agent, having passed through a dozen previous checkpoints including, possibly, a vigorous proctological screening, might be able to get onto the strategically vital escalator to the mezzanine only to be stopped by a 70-year-old lady volunteer in tennis shoes.

“Code Blue! Code Blue!” the old lady from Scranton, PA, might scream. “Unauthorized journalist on Mezzanine level! The New Mexico delegation’s courtesy-nacho-bar has been compromised! Swarm! Swarm!”

According to the New York Times, an aide to Phyllis Schlafly had her knitting needles confiscated and snapped in two because of the potential threat they posed. I would love to see the security report written up for that close call. Alas, such sleuthing would mean I’d miss the unveiling of the new cocktail nuts at the bar, so unless someone wants to bring it to me I’ll just have to forget about it.

I suspect there’s another reason why the security is so ridiculously tight: the pernicious influence of the unions. Everything here must be done with the maximum number of union workers possible. But, at the same time, convention volunteer jobs are the classic reward for rank-and-file party activists. So they have to have both the unionized professional security and the volunteers as well. If it were any worse, we’d have people checking credentials on the way into, and out of, the bathroom stalls.

But that’s about as absurd as the unions are behind the scenes here. I heard from another source that union workers unpacking some Bush-Cheney signs last night were making $88 an hour. Another acquaintance tells me that if a volunteer tries to help some of the union guys set up chairs or install a riser, they will all stop working and sit there. Maybe if Colin Powell could have seen that example of trade-union support for volunteerism he might have found room to criticize them rather than the Republican Party.


If you haven’t been checking out National Review Online’s total convention coverage you are a fool of Alec Baldwin proportions. On Monday we posted 22 web-exclusive articles. On Tuesday, we posted 28. There is no place else to be — except at the bar with me — than National Review Online.


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