If I wrote that the president (or, worse, the Republican speaker of the House) was a "dick," it would be evidence of the lack of standards among bloggers. But Mark Halperin's use of the term to describe Barack Obama on live TV is being treated as only a smidgen over the line of acceptability — even though its sentiment is typical of broadcast punditry.
I can understand why Halperin did it. It's got to be tough coming up with new political analysis every day when you're not allowed to talk about policy (too boring) and the horse race dynamics change so little. Other than flipping back and forth between saying that the president is a genius and that he's a stumblebum, you have to talk about "boomlets" for people who are never, ever going to occupy the White House. (Sorry, Tim Murphy of Mother Jones, but Rick Perry is not going to win the GOP nomination after sponsoring a Christians-only prayerfest that implicitly kisses off Catholics as well as Jews and secular libertarians.)
James Fallows has it right:
The real problem is the dickishness of our mainstream political analysis, especially from the "savviest" practitioners. Back during my days as media critic, I argued in Breaking the News and a related Atlantic cover story that the laziest and ultimately most destructive form of political coverage came when journalists seemed to imagine that they were theater critics or figure-skating judges. The what of public affairs didn't interest them. All they cared about was the how.
I may be Massachusetts-centric, but my sense is there was a tipping point with the Bush-Dukakis presidential race of 1988 (and the demise of Gary Hart earlier that year). After that, I noticed a heightened contempt among political journalists for "losers." It came to be an article of faith that any candidate who couldn't master the atmospherics of a campaign — e.g., using flags as effectively as Bush did or answering "What would you do if your wife was raped and murdered?" in a dramatically satisfying way — couldn't possibly be effective at governing. So why bother to even mention his or her policy views?
Note: I do not endorse the sentiment below when it comes to actual dance floors, but it's highly appropriate for the male-dominated field of political journalism.