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Alan Pell Crawford
Alan Pell Crawford

Alan Pell Crawford is the author, most recently, of Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, a Book of the Month Club selection and Washington Post Best Seller. A journalist and political analyst, a former U.S. Senate speechwriter and congressional press secretary, Crawford is also an accomplished public speaker and has addressed audiences throughout the United States.

Include Me Out

Alan Pell Crawford

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka insists the pow-wow his group will hold on August 11 in Philadelphia is not an alternative to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte two weeks later, or a protest against it. Maybe not, but the decision is further evidence that important organizations like the unions that belong to the AFL-CIO don’t think there are compelling reasons to go to Charlotte. In that, they are part of a large and growing contingent of loyal Democrats—including some congressmen—who feel they have better things to do.

Of course they are right, and if Republicans began to drop out of their convention, that would be even better news. It will be interesting to see how welcoming the GOP leaders are to the less easily controlled elements within their own ranks—the Tea Partiers and the Ron Paul fans. The Republican establishment isn’t crazy about either of these groups of troublemakers, and the most trouble they could cause—in the long run—might be by staying away from Tampa altogether.

You could hardly blame them. Despite our predilection for “Reality TV,” Americans still can tell the difference between the real thing and what Daniel Boorstin way back in 1961 called a “pseudo-event.”

A pseudo-event is one that is staged and scripted for the sole purpose of getting publicity, and that is what our political conventions have become. In boom times, organizations are only too happy to attend them, even sponsoring their own glitzy mini-pseudo-events for the entertainment of the politicians and the lobbyists who follow them around. But when times are tough, organizations look more carefully at such expenditures and think twice about what they’re getting in return.

Labor unions don’t like the fact that the Democrats are holding their party in North Carolina, a right-to-work state. Some unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have said they won’t go as a statement of their disapproval. That’s understandable, too.

It’s a little early to know for sure, but if these decisions reflect, or lead to, a deeper skepticism for pageants designed to look like participatory democracy when they’re not, we can all take heart.

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Mike Elk, “AFL-CIO insists Philadelphia Rally Will Not Be a Shadow Convention,” In These Times, July 13, 2012.

Michelle Fields, “Big Labor Gives Obama, Democrats big cold shoulder with alternate convention,” Daily Caller, July 12, 2012.

Daniel Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, Vintage, 1992.