August 1, 2004

Which Of These Things Doesn't Belong?

Ann Gerhart provides Washington Post readers with an analysis of a term tossed around the Fleet Center in Boston with wild abandon last week, and in the ultimate paragraph, acidly notes one person who avoided it:

Today's phrase:


Definition: A label affixed, often with wild abandon, on any Democrat capable of raising the pulse of delegates assembled inside Boston's FleetCenter. Especially popular with the punditocracy, which used it more than 200 times last week.

Examples: David Gergen on CNN says Bill Clinton is a rock star. Jake Tapper on ABC and Rudy Giuliani, talking to reporters, both tag Michael Moore with it. Hannah Storm on CBS manages to declare Bill Clinton and Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama rock stars in the same paragraph. Says Greta Van Susteren on Fox News: "I hate to overuse the term" -- oh, go ahead -- "but 'rock star' is the term everyone keeps using with both the Clintons." When Sean Hannity on the same network gushes to Jerry Springer that he is a "rock star" on the convention floor, Springer answers, "That shows you the pathetic state of affairs, I'm a rock star."

Fortunately for me, I watched the convention on C-SPAN, so I managed to avoid the silly commentary by the talking heads on Alphabet Row. I'm honestly perplexed by the usage of "rock star" as a compliment, given that most true rock stars tend to be narcissistic and intellectually shallow, and worse, as Gerhart points out. However, in the case of political pundits, they tend to use the term more in description of audience response rather than any intrinsic quality of the person. It's the reason that they felt comfortable applying the label rather liberally at the convention.

Gerhart waits until the final sentence of her analysis to point out where punidts drew the line:

During the Democratic convention, not a single commentator seems to have referred to John Kerry as a rock star, even though he is, to the best of our knowledge, the only one who can play the guitar.

No one referred to Bob Graham as a rock star, either, although that's hardly comforting to Kerry. Howard Dean had been the rock star of the primaries until he ran into a buzzsaw wielded by Al Sharpton and Dick Gephardt in Iowa, and no one has since assumed the mantle. It's clear that Kerry still has not captured the imagination of the Democrats, nor (curiously) of the punditocracy which normally hoists the Democratic nominee on its shoulders. The underlying cause may be Kerry's rhetorical Grahamism and his policy drifts, which leave the liberal commentators either distrustful of his direction or simply uninspired.

No one will be calling George Bush a rock star at the RNC, either -- but no one expects Bush to embrace such a small label anyway.


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