Count me out of the pseudo-events

I am aware that my decision not to attend the Republican Convention in Philadelphia this week and the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles later this month has caused a certain amount of unease around the country. And so I feel an obligation to explain.

All my professional life, I have tried to distinguish between events and what my friend, Dan Boorstin, former librarian of Congress, calls "pseudo events." That is, events staged to attract media attention without much other reason for being.

A convention used to be a place of intense activity, caucuses, and dealmaking, much of it behind the scenes. So you had to be there to try to find out what was going on.

My first convention was the Democratic session in Chicago in 1968, and whatever you called it, that was an event. Not only the cops clubbing the antiwar demonstrators on the street, but a convention deeply split over a platform plank on Vietnam with lame-duck President Johnson threatening to disown the nominee, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, if he budged an inch from support of the war.

Miami Beach in 1972 - that was an event, too, as last-ditch efforts were made to derail the nomination of the liberal antiwar Sen. George McGovern who ended up making his acceptance speech in the middle of the night.

At the Republican Convention that year, also in Miami Beach, I got a lesson in political staging when President Nixon's master scenario for the whole convention fell into my hands. It gave the precise moments for balloon drops, for spontaneous demonstrations of young people shouting, "Four more years!" And it contained the script for John Wayne's "ad lib" remarks.

I recall that at the Democratic Convention in San Francisco in 1984, the legion of news people, numbering 14,500, outnumbered delegates and alternates 3 to 1. This week in Philadelphia, the 16,000 news people from the world over outnumbered Republican delegates and alternates 4 to 1.

That's progress. It seems that the less there is to find out, the more people it takes to do it. The Philadelphia convention, as expected, was a tightly-woven fabric of harmony where nary was heard a discouraging word. A pageant of gender and ethnic diversity preformed for delegates 83 percent white and 61 percent male.

All in all, a colossal pseudo-event. There is nothing wrong with a pseudo-event, which may call for the talents of a drama critic more than a political analyst. So, I hope to be forgiven for not being on hand.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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