The Limits Of Star Power

Posted: January 11, 2008

AT FIRST glance, Alycia Lane and Barack Obama might seem to have have little in common.

The former CBS 3 anchorwoman is white, female, single and out of a job. The Illinois senator is black, male, happily hitched and not about to visit the unemployment line anytime soon. They are about as different as the positions of Mitt Romney and . . . Mitt Romney.

But there's one vital thread that binds: The rock-star aspect of their public success.

Now before the Obama supporters start declaring jihad on my little piece of journalistic real estate, I'm not implying that the Iowa caucus winner (and New Hampshire runner-up) is all surface and no substance.

And, in fairness to Alycia, I'm not implying that her cheekbones are higher than her I.Q.

What I am saying is that these two figures are symbols of what we the public want and desire and hope for. And in failing to recognize that they are as human as you or I, in making them superstars in their respective fields, we are engaging in dangerous hero worship.

As far as the beautiful journalist is concerned, she created an earthquake on her arrival in provincial little Philadelphia back in 2003. Not since Jerry Pennacoli had his fateful meeting with a rumored gerbil did a local news personality cause such a stir.

And it wasn't as if Alycia wasn't competent.

She read copy with just the right amount of grace, pausing at the appropriate moments, flashing those impossibly white teeth and ever-so-gently tossing her glossy tresses to emphasize a point.

But, frankly, she wasn't John Facenda, a man whose voice narrated our history for decades, even after his death. She wasn't Jim O'Brien, whose folksy Southern ways melted the most jaded of Philly hearts. And she definitely wasn't Jessica Savitch, who embodied the term "Golden Girl."

Yet, hungry for a superstar, we made her into the anchorbabe who showed up as regularly in the gossip pages as she did before the TelePrompTer. Perhaps she began to believe her own legend, thinking she truly was "all that."

We still don't know what happened on that fateful December morning when her world began to fall apart. But I don't believe she was dumb enough to jump out of a car and assault a female police officer with a string of naughty phrases and a left hook.

And although the lawyer in me believes that CBS 3 was wrong to cut her loose before any final determination of guilt or innocence, the pragmatist understands why it had to. Alycia, the glorious New York princess who seemed to be slumming in Philadelphia (why was she always up in the Big Apple anyway?), had compromised her image, which, in the end, was the most valuable thing she had.

That's what happens when the container trumps the content.

So what does all this have to do with Barack Obama?

Plenty. Before this election cycle, the junior senator from Illinois was a relative unknown on the national stage. He'd won his Senate seat because his Republican challenger was a pathetic replacement for the original candidate, who had to withdraw from the Senate race because of a sex scandal.

Absent that scandal, Obama might still be killing time in the state legislature.

Not that Obama is unqualified to serve in Congress. Far from it. He's a Harvard-trained constitutional scholar whose oratorical skills rival those of Cicero.

AND YET, who can honestly say that, when measured against Joe Biden's foreign-policy expertise, or Bill Richardson's resume or John McCain, the personification of courage and constructive compromise, or Rudy Giuliani, who revitalized America's premier city, Obama really deserves to be president at this point in his life?

Lots of people, that's who. They're willing to discount his comments about bombing Pakistan and having powwows with Iran. (Biden would never have made such gaffes.) They're delighted that he's biracial because it makes them feel tolerant.

They smile at his confessions of having smoked weed and done "some blow" because they probably have, too. They don't care that he is adamantly, without-limits pro-choice (in fact, that's probably a plus).

They don't seem to care about these things, about his inexperience. But despite his setback in New Hampshire, the Obama phenomenon seems to be still alive and definitely kicking.

He tells his supporters what they want to hear, the college students who are sick of politics as usual and the voters of color who have made him the repository of their dreams and the people who think he'll be a uniter after years of bitter division.

I wish I could feel their excitement. But all I see when I look at the adoring crowds are hero-worshippers. And that might be OK when the hero is an anchorbabe. But it's not OK when the rock star is aiming for the White House.

Barack Obama might want to consider naming his next book "The Audacity of Hype." *

Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.


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