Since Barack Obama launched himself onto the national stage after the 2004 Democratic Convention I never cease to be amazed by people who see him as this bastion of cool. Interesting? Yes. Smart? Extremely so. Charming? Sure. But “cool”? Half the time I expect him to admit that he enjoys D&D and Magic: The Gathering.
I realize that some people think nerds only exist within the white and/or Asian American sphere, but I’m a black nerd. I have dated fellow black nerds. I was in advanced placement classes with other black nerds. We are real. We exist and the only reason why I think anyone ever assumed we were cool was because:
A) that person assuming our coolness wasn’t black OR B) Were older people who thought our brains, perkiness and occasional brown-nosing was charming.
That’s not to say a nerd can’t do things that are cool. I’m an artist and a singer on the side. That’s cool. Creating Apple, Google and Facebook, also cool. Many think, including myself, that superstar producer Pharrell Williams, Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder and comedian Dave Chappelle are cool. But these individuals, white and black, are also all nerds.
Star Wars-loving, skateboarding, geeky masters of their known and unknown universes nerds.
I hate to say this, but I think a lot white people, especially those in the media, are assigning Barack with some non-existent cool points because they don’t know enough black people to know that not all of us are cool. Barack, often times, can be wonkish, wordy even, when trying to answer a question. He’s full of stutter stops. He fidgets and fiddles. He gesticulates with his hands. Nothing is wrong with this, per say, but none of those things are “cool.” I just know that when Al Gore and John Kerry did similar things before him (and even Bill Clinton, to a lesser extent, as he was often long-winded) these men were not considered cool. They were laughed at. They were lame.
TV pundits seem to hear Sam and Dave crooning “Soul Man” when he speaks. To all us Negroes he sounds like the Darius Rucker of politics, only Barack is getting a pass on playing in a genre loved by the Birkenstocks crowd.
Poor Darius put out a decent R&B album in 2002 that no black person I know bought.
Reporters and hosts on CNN and Chris Matthews on MSNBC fumble desperately to capture what is that enumerable quality Barack possesses which delights the intellectual and youthful to no end, yet fails to covert with the working class, a.k.a. “the vast white middle,” b.k.a. those much-fabled “Reagan Democrats.”
I scream at the TV, “He’s a wonk! He went to Harvard Law! He’s educated and brainy and in our anti-intellectual society the only people who talk like him are considered to be effete Liberal elitists and the vast white middle has been reared to fear those people who speak thusly lest they turn all their progeny gay and all their women into ball-crushing harridans.”
That is the problem of every intellectual who runs for office. Book smarts mean the regular man “can’t relate.” People like 10 cent words out of their lawyers and they love it when the IT guy works his magic on their downed servers, but intelligent people are seen as interchangeable cogs, only useful in relation to their utilities and devices. Sure, Jefferson, Adams and Washington sounded like good presidents back when the only people who could vote were wealthy white male landowners. But George W. was the president you could have a beer with! That’s what the people want nowadays!
A nerdy politician can augment the standard of cool if they are a gifted speaker with a charming regional accent. I don’t think Barack is any bigger a nerd than Bill or Hillary Clinton, only Hillary is screwed because no matter how well-written her speech is she still has to give it in that annoying, nasal, Midwestern patois.
Now former Texas Gov. Ann Richards? That woman was smart, but she had the good sense to be born and raised in Texas so despite all her book learnin’ she could still talk all grits n’ puddin’ n’ pie folksy!
Barack also had the good sense to learn how to give a good speech. His nerd brain helped him learn from other eloquent speakers, years of study and knowledge and research made him better at communicating his ideas through his speeches, but once he’s back in a one-on-one environment he returns to lengthy rhetoric that sometimes wanders all around the bend and back but never gets where it’s supposed to go.
This doesn’t mean he’d be a bad president. Speaking style is a pretty superficial thing to base a person’s worth. Suffice to say some of our past great presidents, born before the advent of television, wouldn’t have past the “Bill Clinton playing a sax on Arsenio Hall test.” They didn’t teach a course in that at William and Mary. I assure you, FDR would have found that gambit a bit ridiculous and hard to surmount considering he was trying to hide the fact he’d been crippled by polio.
But these individuals weren’t cool. Our best presidents were far more often ambitious, supercharged egomaniacs living within the bodies and failings of nerds who learned how to turn a pretty phrase. So why I understand the Obama-mania to a certain extent, you can’t convince me that Barack is cool in the sense of that ethereal hipness only exuded by movie stars and surly teenagers. I saw the man dance on “Ellen.” And no matter how press spins it, his moves expired somewhere around 1995. And the whole bowling thing? I can’t even believe he tried it, other than he did the typical nerd underestimation of feats beloved by townies.
“How hard could it be?” said the nerd. “You just throw a ball at some pins!”
Like Barack because he’s smart. Like Barack because you think he’s the best candidate for president. But if you’re liking him based on coolness factor alone you should instead write in Balenciaga or the game Guitar Hero in as your candidate this fall.
Or if you really do think he is cool you should also take in consideration how old you are. I knew a lot of 50 year olds who told me I was cool when I was 14. After all, they said I always did what I was told unlike their lousy kids.