The Fate of a Rock Star

January 9, 2007 · 12:07 AM EST

There’s been some controversy over Barack Obama’s middle name, but it’s his new title that’s puzzling. Why do we have to label the senator a rock star? Are we talking about a rock star in the vein of The Beatles or Hanson?

Actual musical rock stars generally gain their status through their performance and their product. In contrast, newly-minted political “rock star” Obama is characterized largely by his style and the promise of future performance, rather than his short resume.

So, who decides who is a rock star? In music, it’s determined by selling albums, concert tickets, and merchandise. In politics, it’s much more subjective, and in the case of Obama, apparent laziness on the part of a media unable to characterize the senator in a more creative and correct way.

At some point, the label “rock star” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People start to like Obama because other people like him, rather than supporting him because they’ve delved into his policy views. Cable news networks use the term because newspapers do, and vice-versa. It has become chic to like Obama and woe to the person who attacks him first.

When I think of a rock star, I think of a hard-partying musician who hangs out with groupies, enjoys recreational drugs, and ends up detailing their transgressions and their road to recovery on VH1’s Behind the Music. These aren’t exactly the attributes of a presidential candidate.

Fortunately, Obama doesn’t embody my definition, but he is like a rock star in at least one respect- he’s received a ridiculous amount of attention for largely superficial reasons. Let’s face it, most people don’t know much about Barack Obama, except for that he’s articulate, he’s black, and he gave a timely speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

But over time, we will learn more about Obama as a person and as a legislator. Republicans gathered plenty of research on the Democrat during the 2004 Senate race, including his record in the Illinois Legislature, but they never had a credible candidate to deliver the attacks. And its only a matter of when, not if, the media’s glowing coverage will turn into a microscope. No one can maintain this type of positive coverage for the next twenty months.

In general, the public eventually moves beyond superficial obsession with celebrities and begins to recognize their faults. Instead of judging people based on their hair, their movies, or their superstar spouse, we start considering their traffic stops, divorces, drug use, politics, and their religion. At this point, the celebrity- be it a rock star or whomever- must prove to the public that they have something real to offer.

To his credit, Obama has created a national reputation without anyone really knowing anything about what he stands for. He’s captivated the public’s attention by not looking or sounding like a typical politician. And Obama’s supporters are hoping that the senator’s honesty and openness will cause people to look beyond any past mistakes and lack of experience.

If he could have it his way, I’m sure Obama would rather be known as the smart, thoughtful, and articulate man that he is, instead of a rock star. He’s certainly a strong candidate, but the road to the nomination and to the White House is much rockier than the one people are paving today.