TAMPA, FL — “They know better than we do.”
This was the comment of a Republican attendee, surveying the massive security surrounding us at the GOP Convention in Tampa. What began as a mumbled musing about the militarization of an American metropolis settled into a calm self-assurance that, whatever the authorities had chosen to do, that must be the right thing.
“Maybe there’s a threat they haven’t told us about,” he continued. “They can’t tell us everything.” He chuckled at me, expecting I would concur.
“I don’t assume they know better than we do,” I replied. “Perhaps they know less.”
As he squinted at me, he wasn’t angry or disputatious. While I cannot claim to know his exact thoughts, he just seemed confused. It had not occurred to him, apparently, that there is such a thing as too much security.
This column has often made the case that many of our liberal friends simply do not know that there is another side to policy issues. So ensconced are they among like-thinkers and fellow-travelers that they never hear a differing opinion. Some senior, experienced, ostensibly erudite leftists are utterly buffaloed by the demonstrable notion that lower tax rates commonly lead to higher tax revenues, for just one example.
But this interaction with my Republican interlocutor served as a reminder that we have blinkered associates on our side as well, albeit on different issues. For generations, conservatives have been proudly pro-police, strong on defense, and in favor of security. But the time has come to re-think that admirable respect for the rule of law and recognize that not everything done or decided by someone with a badge and a gun is right, or necessary, or even consistent with the principles of a free country. It is also perfectly consistent to favor a strong military while questioning Pentagon policies.
This was alluded to by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul who, in his speech to the Convention, averred, “Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well spent.”
To bolster Paul’s point, a military that promoted Fort Hood terrorist Nidal Hasan to the rank of Major and, after Hasan murdered 13 people, saw Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey opine that, “It would be an even greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here,” is not one that can claim to have unimpeachable judgment. Further, a Navy “green fleet” that requires alternative fuels costing $26 a gallon is not an expenditure of unquestionable sagacity.
So Republicans who purport to be strong on defense, their strength measured in the number of dollars they wish to fling at such nonsense, are missing the solar-powered boat.
Just as there is a distinction between hard work and effective work, there is no guarantee that spending lots of money means those funds will be wisely deployed. While the GOP Convention went off without incident, that does not mean all these silly-bears were necessary. Similarly, if there is a riot at the DNC in Charlotte, that does not mean, ipso facto, that not enough money was spent.
The city of Tampa was reportedly given $50 million in federal funds to keep people safe, but the overlap and Tower of Babel-type communication among municipal, county, state, and federal authorities made for a right mess.
One senior Republican found former New Hampshire governor and Bush 41 chief of staff John Sununu stranded on the roadside, his ride having been turned back by the all-knowing police presence for violation of some aspect of their Byzantine protocols.
There is some cold, egalitarian comfort to be taken from the fact that even senior public officials are chomped by the mindless maw of the security state. This week, I spoke with former Missouri governor and senator Kit Bond (who, incidentally, assured me he will not agree to be drafted as a replacement for hapless Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, whom Bond agrees should withdraw from the race) and he lamented that he is routinely molested and undressed at America’s airports, and neither congressional waivers nor doctors’ notes about his metal implants spare him these ordeals. Either Bond, the septuagenarian, 40-year public servant, is the most patient sleeper cell operative in history, or the system requires reform.
Compare this with the recent London Olympics. Those of us in attendance at the Games encountered annoyances and security overkill, and questionable calls were certainly made (missiles on rooftops, for example), but the sheer mass of machine guns and fatigues, not to mention the grinning deference to police-state tactics, simply did not exist. How interesting that London, with more closed-circuit cameras than any other city and a populace inured to surveillance, was able to accommodate a much larger event with less kerfuffle than the host city where the party of limited government convened.
But the state of affairs on display in Tampa is not the city’s fault, nor Republicans’, and the security imbroglio at the Democratic convention in North Carolina won’t be that party’s fault, either. It is a cultural problem. America has adopted a safety-first mentality, as Mark Steyn observed in his critique of the decision to shut down Day One of the RNC due to the incoming storm. We must be bolder, Steyn aptly asserts. As to, “They know better than we do,” Americans should not think in these terms, and Republicans least of all. This is, however, a bipartisan conundrum.
President George W. Bush should not have created the Department of Homeland Security, much less given it such a Soviet-sounding name, and Barack Obama should have shut it down, not staffed it with nincompoops like DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano (in this way, the breathtakingly ignorant Napolitano is a disgrace to an office that should not exist).
It is worth noting that, having followed Mitt Romney fairly closely since he ran for Massachusetts governor, advocated his inclusion on the ticket in 2008, and having assured anyone who would listen that he would come back for the win in 2012 (notwithstanding our misbegotten notion in late 2011 that Newt would overcome, in spite of himself), I have heard him say precious little about rolling back the nation’s rapidly expanding security apparatus. This is troubling, but hope springs eternal.