by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
February 11, 2010
TOO COOL TO RULE?
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Lester Young is cool. Miles Davis is cool. Jack Kerouac is cool. President Barack Obama is cool.
But if you're looking for leadership, this last might not be a good thing.
According to Wikipedia, the word "cool" has "associations of composure and self-control... and often is used as an expression of admiration or approval."
Just think of the many street expressions that promote cool, like "Keep your cool," or "I'm cool with that." Stephen Sondheim caught the ethos fairly well in the song "Cool" from "West Side Story." Read it while snapping your fingers to get the full effect:
Boy, boy, crazy boy
In his first year in office, we've seen Mr. "No Drama" Obama keep his cool in almost every situation in which he's found himself. This incredibly likable man - tall and smart and hip and married to a marvelous woman he obviously adores - has charmed most of America and the world.
He is clearly accustomed to being admired. Not so modestly, he accepts accolades as if they were Hawaiian leis - small fragrant flowers strung together solely to be draped around his neck. His chin lifts and he looks like he's posing for a bust instead of heading for one. You can hear him thinking, who else should win the Nobel Peace Prize for his first year in office?
Since opposites attract, it's interesting that the people who most oppose Mr. Obama are exactly the opposite of him in terms of cool - they're red hot. In fact, they burn with rage.
Unfortunately for President Obama, fire melts ice.
It's hard to think of cool presidents because coolness does not lend itself easily to the pursuit and use of power. Politics runs on passion.
The presidents who accomplished the most were definitely not cool. Think of Lincoln and you think of anguish. Think of FDR and you think of a patrician who was called a traitor to his class. Think of Truman and you think of small-town America. Kennedy might have been cool in the beginning but not at the end of his too-short Administration, when world events and party politics were starting to weigh him down. Think of Reagan and you think of warmth and charm.
Think of LBJ and you think of the expert use and abuse of power, but you definitely don't think of cool. To be cool is to be above the fray; Johnson was happy to wallow in the muck.
The people of this nation chose President Obama precisely because we liked him and his stand on many important issues. But his first year in office has been a great disappointment - perhaps he's too cool to rule.
His first mistake was insisting on governing with a "team." It's never "My decision" or "I ordered." It's always "My team and I." This immediately diffuses responsibility. There may not be an "I" in team, but we're talking about a world leader, not a point guard. President Obama's leadership style is hindering him because, as Truman liked to point out, the buck stops there.
Even after a year of tea party howling and wild-eyed accusations, Mr. Obama is still reaching out for reconciliation. He told People Magazine in January, "Whether we're Democrats or Republicans - we all have common values and care about our kids, we all want work that's satisfying, pats the bills and gives children a better future and security. Returning to these themes is going to be really important."
Common values? The Republicans, with their 41st vote in the Senate coming in the form of Scott Brown from Massachusetts, are openly and gleefully planning to obstruct every move President Obama makes.
Jonathan Schell, writing in the Feb. 15 edition of The Nation, lays it out. Republicans will "obstruct him (and the country) from achieving anything. Refuse to cooperate with him, and then accuse him of partisanship. Stop all his initiatives and then brand him as ineffective. Prevent improvement in people's lives, and then point out that their lives are still unimproved."
Schell argues that instead of reconciliation, President Obama should take the path of "the real" and "give voice even to unpopular truths" such as the need for action on health care reform, climate change, joblessness, useless wars and economic disparity.
"There is a power in the real that is going untapped," Schell writes. "It is the power of that salubrious, galvanizing, irreversible inner shock that you feel when the veil falls from your eyes and the truth of something is placed before you."
As we saw in his recent State of the Union speech, Mr. Obama is a fine standup comedian. He's very cool. But these are dangerous times that demand anger, passion, craftiness, the willingness to be tough, to cut, to manipulate, to deal, to mix it up. You can't be coolly cool and wield power. You can only stand back and be admired.
President Obama must turn up the juice. Failure means a one-term presidency, and that isn't cool, man.
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a columnist and journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.