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Dems and "Street Cred"

Exclusive commentary by Greg Lewis / WashingtonDispatch.com
July 22, 2003

A great deal has been made recently about whether or not certain athletes have what is known as "street cred"; that is, credibility on the "street," in the "community," with "people." Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant, for example, doesn't have street cred, and his lack of it is often cited as one of the reasons the sneakers he endorses don't sell as well as those endorsed by, for instance, the Philadelphia 76ers' Allen Iverson, who does have street cred.

Having survived growing up in an American inner city and achieved stardom as a professional athlete automatically marks you as someone who has street cred. On a superficial level, the more tattoos you have, the greater your street cred. More ominously, spousal abuse, DWI arrests, fathering children out of wedlock, and drug use also rank high on the list of things that seem to boost an athlete's street cred. The street cred of the 2001 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis spiked after his highly publicized arrest in 2000, but it took a few years for advertisers to catch on to the fact that he actually became more marketable because of his brush with the law. Today Lewis — despite being implicated in a widely publicized double homicide (he was later acquitted of all charges) — has endorsement deals with Reebok, EA Sports, Madden 2004 Electronic Football, and several Baltimore businesses. Advertisers now know better than to ignore the power of street cred to generate sales.

One of the important components of street cred is your attitude toward law and order, how you relate to "the man." As the Ray Lewis saga demonstrates, run-ins with with the law, once thought to be the kiss of death for athletes' endorsement prospects, can actually improve their marketability by enhancing their street cred. Athletes who, like Allen Iverson, manage to continually show contempt for authority by disrespecting "the man," are sure to maintain street cred. Perverse as it seems, Kobe Bryant's legal troubles may actually boost his street cred and the value of his endorsements.

Convicted felon and former President Bill Clinton rode the boost in his street cred among Democrats generated by the Monica Lewinsky scandal to sustained popularity in the polls. He managed to frame the scandal as a battle between the forces of authoritarian repression (represented by Kenneth Starr) and himself as a victim (he thus further demeaned the office of President of the United States) who exemplified what it meant to be "human." It can be argued that Clinton's impeachment for lying under oath actually further boosted his street cred. Nor does the fact that Clinton wasn't convicted in his trial in the Senate prove he was innocent any more than O.J. Simpson's acquittal on murder charges proved that Simpson didn't kill his wife.

On one level, the American political "street" (which is overwhelmingly a Democratic phenomenon) interpreted Clinton's political survival as a victory over everything they resent about "the man." Just as a majority of African-Americans allowed themselves to be convinced that O.J. did not off Nicole and Ron, a majority of Democrats, feeding on the Chief Executive's street cred, allowed themselves to be convinced that Bill Clinton did not commit high crimes and misdemeanors. And lest you think this political street cred business is a stretch: At the recent NAACP convention, Al Sharpton earned the biggest round of applause given to any speaker when he mentioned that he'd served time in jail.

Which is to say that the Democrat Party has become, especially during the past decade, the party of street cred. Dems seem to attract, even to seek out, candidates who have it. (The Republican Party doesn't have street cred, doesn't want it, and wouldn't know how to get it if they did. Thank God.) The Clintons, poster couple for political street cred, still control the Democrat Party, and they're not about to step down any time soon. Unless and until they do, the Dems will be stuck defending what street cred translates to in the political arena: moral intransigence, racial pandering, irresponsible fiscal and national security policies, and borderline insane verbal attacks on American institutions and on the very people who stand for the positive values on which America was built and thanks to which she continues, despite liberals' efforts, to thrive.

Watching "the wad," a term which — in spite of the fact it was coined in another context by leftist wacko Norman Mailer some years ago — I find useful to describe the current gaggle of Democratic presidential candidates vying for street cred, I'm struck by how splintered the Left has become, by how difficult it must be to maintain street cred with so many different minority factions. How, for instance, can you have street cred with the gay-lesbian-transgender faction if you haven't at least considered having a sex-change operation or going to bed with someone of your own "gender" (the term incorrectly used by the Left to mean "sex")?

Clinton, in order to placate a majority of Americans while still boosting his street cred with drug abusers — another sub-group of their constituency to which Democrats must pander — claimed he "didn't inhale." How does that translate for a contemporary candidate who's trying to convince the Leftist gender Nazis that he's taken a brief walk on the wild side? (I'll let you come up with your own answers.)

When I watch the wad in action, I'm reminded of Bob Dylan's description of a political candidate in his 1964 song, "I Shall Be Free": "Now, the man on the stand he wants my vote / He's a runnin' for office on the ballot note. / He's out there preachin' in front of the steeple, / Tellin' me he loves all kinds of people. / He's eatin' bagels, he's eatin' chitlin's, he's eatin' pizza . . . O-o-o-o-oh!"

Of course, Dylan was speaking from a decidedly leftist, anti-American perspective in that song. It's interesting to observe that things have come full circle, that the very leftist position from which Dylan mocked establishment political candidates in 1964 has become everything, and more, that the Left despised 40 years ago.

The Democrats have morphed into the political party that pursues street cred at all costs. In the process they've traded morality for marketability, purpose for poll numbers, integrity for instant gratification. And I have no doubt the 2004 elections will reveal that, in doing so, Democrats have also given up their right to speak for and represent Americans and what America stands for.

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