On the Proper Use of Kryptonite

Frank Rich winds down an editorial damning GOP nominee John McCain with faint praise by noting (of Democratic contender Barack Obama),

What repeatedly goes unrecognized by all of Mr. Obama’s opponents is that his political Kryptonite is the patriotism he offers in lieu of theirs. His upbeat notion of a yes-we-can national mobilization for the common good, however saccharine, speaks to the pride and idealism of Americans who are bone-weary of a patriotism defined exclusively by flag lapel pins, the fear of terrorism and the prospect of perpetual war.

I first clicked through to the article after seeing this bit quoted approvingly to try and figure out what Rich was trying to say.

The problem with this turn of phrase “his political Kryptonite is the patriotism he offers in lieu of theirs” is that when we say X is somebody’s Kryptonite, we mean that X is his/her weakness. This is the standard usage since the phrase came into fashion during the 1990s, and thousands of examples can be found from Googling the phrase. As one can glean from the excerpt I quoted, though, Rich’s usage of the phrase goes against the actual meaning. He ought to have written, “Obama’s concept of patriotism is his opponents’ Kryptonite” or something along these lines. I am inclined to disagree with that assertion, of course, but at least that formulation would be correct.

Thus concludes my editorializing on the dangers of op-ed writers trying to sound hip.

Update:  Daniel Larison already noted Rich’s Kryptonite flub and has substantive analysis of the column as well.

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