The Fall of the Cool President

In the past few elections, voters elected presidents who projected coolness (Clinton and Obama) or swagger, which George W. Bush had in spades. We saw them play the saxophone at Arsenio Hall, shoot hoops with Michael Jordan, and throw out the first pitch—a strike—in front of sold out Yankee Stadium crowd a month after 9/11.

Of the six presidents before them, only Ronald Reagan could possibly qualify as cool or charismatic. Of course, there’s the coolest ever, John F. Kennedy.

Given America’s strong history of “cool” leadership, it has been a bit of a bummer to look at our future prospects now. It is unlikely that the next president will share Clinton or Obama’s cool factor, or have Bush’s swagger. To be blunt, the current crop is not particularly cool nor witty nor athletic. Whatever physical attributes they have—or had—are not part of their political brands. In the current presidential race, the men and woman seeking their party’s nomination are hardened politicians who live to work.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has a well-established political brand. Her popularity (for now) is rooted in her capacity for her hard work, her comebacks from significant personal and political setbacks, and her record as senator and Secretary of State. While the media has focused on her appearance and her past, her work ethic and detailed policy knowledge define her political brand.

Then there is the 74-year-old self-proclaimed democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders. Over the course of the campaign trail we have seen Sanders project anger and rage. He has a certain style that is resonating with millennial voters, but it’s hardly cool.

Among the Republicans left seeking the nomination, few are fit and none are cool.

Ted Cruz was a champion debater in college who has literally worked harded throughout his life—as a Supreme Court clerk, Bush administration official, Texas solicitor general, and senator. The narrative that has taken hold about him is just how unlikable he is and how he struggles with retail politics.

John Kasich characterizes himself as being straightforward and optimistic. In each debate he has come across as being “above the fray,” unwilling to fall into the nasty rhetoric that has characterized the Republican race thus far. You take a look at him and just know that he has a perfect voting record, a perfect dental record, and he probably never missed a day of school. But at the end of the day, he just doesn’t have the cool toughness that Americans like to see in the leader of their nation.

Of course, Trump has sucked all of the political oxygen from the air. His hair, his accent, his billions of dollars, his marriages, and his admission that he’d want to date his own daughter make him a truly interesting character…but calm and cool? I think not.

From the start it seemed that there was only one candidate with any swagger and youthful appeal—Marco Rubio. He played some college football, married a cheerleader, and he has a compelling personal story. If he had been able to break out of the pack, he would have been the first Generation X-er to run a serious presidential campaign. However, his failure to draw support in Florida marked the end of his road to the White House.

As the race stands currently, voters can choose between white men and a woman who have been chasing government work and elected office their entire professional lives. They are hard working and driven individuals, but it would be tough to find an American who would label them as cool or hip.

All of this is not to say that they are not trying. As a matter of fact, all of the candidates are trying extremely hard to be perceived as cool; one may say painfully so.

To begin, we’ve seen Clinton, Sanders, Trump and even Chris Christie on SNL in the past year. We’ve also seen Hillary Clinton doing the Whip and Nae Nae on the Ellen Show and taking selfies with Kim Kardashian. And although he is no longer in the race, it would be impossible to forget Martin O’Malley cringe-worthy rendition of “Bad Blood” on The View. Then there are the videos of Ted Cruz making “machine gun bacon” and doing impression of the Simpsons characters. I kid you not, those are on the internet. Look them up.

If you take a look at each of the candidate’s websites, you’ll see a variety of “cool” items that are clearly targeted at the millennial generation. Bernie Sanders is selling throwback FDR t-shirts that read, “Join the political revolution today!” The Clinton campaign is selling t-shirts that showcase a photo of a young Hillary Clinton with “Yaaas, Hillary” printed across the image. The Cruz Campaign is selling a shirt that says, “I applied to Trump University and all I got was this shirt”—ZING! And lastly, a personal favorite of mine—the “Ru(bae)o” collection.

I may also add that you can find a Ted Cruz BBQ set, Donald Trump red solo cups, and a “Chillary Clinton” beer koozie.

It seems that since Clinton, Bush, and Obama, whose presidencies upended American politics, being a jock or one of the “cool kids” has lost its political currency. Perhaps these current candidates see a greater importance in being “fit to be President,” rather than just being “fit.”

However, I refuse to give up hope on the presidential “cool factor” because even if you completely disagree with their ideologies, you can’t help but want your international representative to carry themself with a whole lot of confidence and a little bit of swag. And admit it, when you see Bernie Sanders shooting hoops with his grandkids after winning the New Hampshire primary, or Hillary Clinton make an appearance on Broad City, you kind of respect the cool factor.

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