An occasional look at the language of politics

Today's phrase:

ROCK STAR

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."

Antonym: "Girlie man," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's put-down of state legislators standing in the way of his proposed California budget.

Interpretation: Improper usage. The rock star, as an archetype, shoots heroin, trashes hotel rooms, beds groupies and dies young. That is not a resume for a stellar political career. (The groupie-bedding charge can be overcome. See: Clinton, Bill.) The rock star projects an animal magnetism and a certain unattainability that seduces men and women alike. The political star must pretend he can sit down in your La-Z-Boy for a spell without you needing to lock up your daughter.

A real rock star has "incandescent charisma," says Howard Kramer, curatorial director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, "that works on several levels. There are very few people in the political arena to whom you could apply that. The machines behind the individual politicians might like you to believe that."

In other words: Sen. Clinton, I have met Gwen Stefani, and you, madame, are no Gwen Stefani.

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.

-- Ann Gerhart