December 26, 2010
A Plague of BlowhardsBy Carol Peracchio
My husband and I took our seats for the long flight home after another visit with the family. The rental car return, security screening and fight for the overhead bins had all gone surprisingly smoothly. I sighed and relaxed. Then it started.
Two rows behind us a man started talking. No, not talking. Bloviating. Loudly. He started holding forth and dispensing wisdom to his seatmate. Subject after subject, the plane was treated to his immense store of knowledge and experience. My husband and I turned to each other and simultaneously mouthed, "Blowhard."
This fellow was a textbook example of a blowhard. His voice was at the perfect pitch and decibel level to carry it to the farthest reaches of whatever enclosed space he happened to be in. Everything he said, down to his beverage request, had the weightiness of a proclamation. We were all merely ears to him, receptacles to be filled with his every deep, important thought. No topic of conversation ever existed that could not somehow be converted to his favorite subject: himself.
Where do blowhards come from? While it's true that a few will always have a blowhard bent, I believe that the root cause of our present explosion in blowhardism can be traced to the self-esteem movement so popular in public schools in the 1980s. According to the mission statement for The National Council for Self Esteem (yes, there really was such a group):
As a parent of school-aged children in the 1980s, I remember the smiley face stickers and the songs proclaiming, "I'm the Best Me There Is!" I dreaded the Honors Award ceremonies where every single kid was called to the front of the cafetorium to get a piece of paper lauding their groundbreaking achievement in such vital areas as attendance or "Great Attitude." The vice-principal would make a little speech thanking us parents for allowing her to be with our kids all day because, "I've learned so much more from these children then they have ever learned from me." (Each year I had to bite my tongue to keep from yelling out, "So what are we paying you for?")Luckily, most of the kids never bought the self-esteem hype. But some did. They believed their parents, teachers and PBS: I'm special! I'm smart! I'm the only me there is!
So these little blowhards grow up to work in jobs where they can do what they do best -- talk. They become salespeople, consultants, broadcasters and politicians. They can, of course, be found in other professions, but most blowhards are happiest when they can spend all their waking hours listening to the sweetest sound they know: their own voices.
How does one spot a blowhard? Besides the non-stop pontificating, there are some telltale signs. First, a blowhard never listens. Second, a blowhard is never wrong. Third, a blowhard knows everything.
Among average people, blowhards are not very popular. They walk into a party and the whole room murmurs, "Aw jeez, who invited him?" Yet blowhards have achieved the pinnacles of power in Washington and the media. Why?
Perhaps it's because blowhards exude such confidence in their knowledge and abilities. Confidence can be a very attractive quality to uninvolved voters. And though being a blowhard is not necessarily partisan (we can all name a couple of conservative blowhards), it is far easier in Washington to be a left-wing blowhard. My theory is since the left-wing media has 24 hours of programming to fill, who better to invite on a liberal news show than a liberal blowhard? They love to talk and never run out of words. And since the left-wing media fully agrees with his views, the blowhard is never challenged.
Observe blowhards like Barney Frank and Joe Biden. Their entire lives their blowhardism has not only been tolerated but celebrated. Joe Biden's blowhardism, such as saying "You cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking" is dismissed as a gaffe. Barney Frank, his blowhardism questioned for the first time in his life, reacts by calling his own constituent a "dining room table."
But for the absolute poster boy of blowhardism, I nominate a politician/TV host named Joe Scarborough. This article was inspired by his show, Morning Joe, on MSNBC.
If one of you ever has concerns that you yourself might be turning into a blowhard, Mr. Scarborough's show provides a handy checklist:
The Joe Scarborough Quiz: Am I a Blowhard?
1. Do you have an irresistible impulse to interject your personal experience into every single topic of conversation?
2. Does your spouse or co-host display the following every time you open your mouth: eye rolling, deep sighs, doodling or an immediate need for the restroom?
3. Do you bloviate verbally or in print about all the people who totally agree with your opinion, but who unfortunately can't be named?
4. Can you name any achievement in America in the past twenty years that you haven't taken at least partial credit for?
And the hallmark of blowhardism:
5. Are the only people who laugh at your jokes those whose livelihoods depend on you?
0 to 1: You are not a blowhard.
2 to 3: You need to be on guard against blowhardism. Take a few seconds before opening your mouth and ask yourself, "Would I want to hear someone else say this?" and "Have I told this story before?" Take a look at your companions' faces and try to pick up on social cues like eye rolling and fidgeting. If you spot these, shut up.
4 to 5: You're hopeless. Run for office as a Democrat or get your own show on MSNBC.
Carol Peracchio is a registered nurse.