The Sanctuary on Paradise

I’m in Florida this weekend, trying to get a final few days of Summer before school starts up again. Or maybe it won’t if the Chicago teachers go out on strike. But either way, Summer is coming to and end, and we want to end it with something to remember.

Our visions of fun in the sun have been washed way by soon-to-be Hurricane Isaac, which is somewhere in the Caribbean and heading this way. The winds are blowing, the rain is starting, and the bargain that people who live in Florida have to make with nature is coming into full view.

I decided to head out into the rain this afternoon, to have a look around before the storm gets too bad. After a few minutes, I came to a gated community. I’ve read about them, and driven by them before, but I’ve never come into contact with one before. I walked up to the gate, read the No Trespassing sign, and realized that I could never live in such a place. I won’t judge those who do, but it seems to me to be the product of a very anti-social view of the world.

When my neighborhood in Chicago was laid out in the early 20th century, the technology for creating such a walled-off community didn’t exist. But, more importantly, I don’t think that the desire to create one existed, either. Gated communities exist because the people on the inside take an active role in keeping the people on the outside out. I can’t so much as walk along the sidewalks and admire the houses in such a place. I get to see the gate, and feel the sense of exclusion that the gate is meant to convey, and walk away, trying to understand their view of the world.
I stood outside the gate, waiting until one of the community’s residents left their sanctuary. I wondered if they felt nervous, being out on a road that they didn’t own and couldn’t control. I wondered how long before they made it onto U.S. 1, or I-95, or any of the other roads that U.S. taxpayers like myself pay for the maintenance of. I wondered how long before this person would turn on the radio and (if they don’t have satellite radio) listen to something on the airwaves that we all own. I wondered if, on the off chance they should get into an accident, if publicly-financed ambulances would come to their assistance, or if the gated community had the resources to gather up their wounded, wherever they are, and bring them back to safety within their walls.

The gated community mindset seems to have resonated with the Republicans who will, not coincidentally, be coming to Florida for their nominating convention later this week. They have turned a remark that President Obama made about roads and bridges into a rallying cry about what role the government plays in our lives. The government services that pour into the gated communities are obvious enough to see, if the people inside of them would only care to look for them.

Beyond the roads, which people couldn’t live in Florida without, there are public sewers and water services, public schools, public fire and police protection and–may it never come to this–public funds for when Isaac or another storms decides to put the full power of nature on display. Or even, something that this week’s convention-goers can understand, public airports. Yes, the runways that are used for takeoffs and landings, and the air traffic control towers and the people who make sure the planes don’t collide in mid-air, and the airport terminals where the planes load and unload their passengers, are dependent upon government funds or personnel. And without them, well, there’s no convention in Tampa next week.

It will be interesting to see how far the “We built it” theme is carried at next week’s convention. The people who espouse such a view have to be willfully oblivious of the role that government has played in the creation of the very site of the convention, and in the police and fire protection that will allow it to take place. And, to be ideologically consistent, they will have to completely disregard the storm tracking services provided by the National Weather Service (and yes, that’s a government agency that all of us are paying for).

So let the Republicans leave their gated communities, travel to Tampa, and spend several days railing about the evils of government. Nobody on Fox News, or the other media outlets that will be reporting on the proceedings, will have the courage to call them out on their hypocrisy. But those of us on the outside will be playing a role that will not be publicly acknowledged.

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