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Giuliani’s Pseudo-Coup

Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani for president today. This is a coup, but not for any substantive reason. Taken strictly as an electoral matter, the Robertson imprimatur is almost certainly a wash — meaning that any votes it will generate will be offset by votes it will cost among those, even on the Republican side, who find Robertson a singularly unappetizing figure (including among Evangelical Christians, many of whom come from a different eschatalogical tradition from Robertson’s).

There are times when an endorsement really does mean something substantial — when, say, a governor with a powerful political machine at his disposal anoints a presidential candidate with the understanding that his machine will do whatever it can to get the candidate elected. This is not the case here, for the reasons I’ve outlined.

That Giuliani has managed to secure the endorsement of a formerly significant leader of the Religious Right was to be expected, if for no other reason that the endorser was bound to get a lot of attention from a hungry media that can’t get enough of this pre-primary season and the intriguing fact of a pro-choice candidate sitting atop the Republican leaderboard. That Giuliani’s endorser would be Robertson is also not surprising, because he has spent years trying to make up for his disgusting assent to the repugnant claims of the late Jerry Falwell that the American Civil Liberties Union and other secularist organizations bore some responsibility for the attacks of 9/11.

What we have here, then, is a Giuliani “pseudo-coup,” to adapt Daniel Boorstin’s great neologism about staged media events that have no intrinsic meaning. In 1961, Boorstin described a “pseudo-event” as a

happening that possesses the following characteristics:

(1) It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.
(2) It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported…

Endorsements these days are almost exclusively pseudo-events, and this one more than most. The reason it’s a pseudo-coup is that it’s become the story of the day. It will be discussed for the remainder of the week. It is an attention-generator, and a spotlight-stealer, since the news has drawn the media’s attention away from the endorsement of John McCain by Sen. Sam Brownback, who just dropped out of the presidential race.


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