I was accused not too long ago by a young lady near and dear to me of acting/being “too cool.” She felt I was so devoted to cool poses I’d be ineffectual, unable to muster up the fire needed to deal with moments of imminent danger. She even went so far as to say she felt my future children would be in a potential danger due to my cool ways.
Knowing myself, I don’t think I’m as bad as all that, my basic most natural tendency is to underplay emotional response, even in moments of crisis, but being human I’ve come down the mountain with a head full of steam plenty of times. From an early age, I’ve always tried to display what the French language calls “sangfroid”, aka “Cold Blood” (shot out to Rick James). However, her point has merit. Many of my choice in life have been based on whatever I thought looked cool in a particular situation. Cool not meaning hip or trendy, but cool meaning composed, calm, centered and unaffected by the chaos of the moment.
The problem is, although the outward appearance of being cool is a big part of what we deem cool, it is not all there is to it. Appearing cool is no substitute for a deep spiritual center achieved by processing experience, keeping an eye on longer term goals, thoughtfulness, knowledge, wisdom and understanding, and confidence.
Without that grounding, an individual is perilously close to being what the great Funk Master George Clinton was calling out with his character, Sir Nose D’Void of Funk. Sir Nose was always turned out sharp, always spoke in the hippest of lingo, but despite his sartorial excellence, he was rendered soulless by his devotion to being cool. Clinton said Sir Nose was based on brothers he knew growing up who didn’t want to swim or dance because it would sweat their process hair do’s out. Looking cool therefore becomes more important than living life. Clinton felt this was, “corny, because cool is different things to different people anyway.”
Coolness has been President Obama’s greatest virtue and greatest vice during his solo on the public stage. This goes far beyond his swaggering walk, razor sharp hairline, oratorical brilliance, basketball ability, and his affinity for Stevie Wonder and Jay Z. One of the things that appealed to America about President Obama as an african American political figure is that he didn’t reflect in his public persona the sense of racial outrage of a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton. Obama was COOL. He was sharp, intelligent, and economical in his speech. After the grave severity of 9/11 and George Bush’s cowboy rhetoric and the sense that admnistration tried to give us that we were in as much trouble from Osama Bin Laden et. al, as we were from Adolf Hitler himself, that coolness of tone was greatly appreciated, even if it was in the midst of an economic crisis a few notches below the Great Depression.
So great was the cool of Obama that many doubted him on that basis. I talked to many who genuinely liked Obama, but felt that in a tough world, he was far too mellow. This line of reasoning didn’t quite work for me, though I understood it, it was almost like employees who feel more comfortable with a mean boss. Of course, my favorite quote on Presidential power is that one Teddy Roosevelt brought back from his African safari, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” I saw the reputation of President Obama go from possibly too cool and nice to handle the serious business of being President, to possibly having a “pshycopathic” level of detachment, during the weekend where he pimp slapped Donald Trump and Osama Bin Laden with one cock of the hand. The fire was most definitley in there somewhere with the President, mostly contained in those moments of his speeches when he rose to the heights reached weekly by the neighborhood shepards of the Lord God himself.
Since he’s become President that day in early 2009 however, we’ve heard less and less of that type of fire from the President. To the point where myself and friends remarked he may have been too involved in the business of being President, what David Gergen calls the “inside” game of political power, working the machinery of Washington, and neglecting the “outside” game, motivating the people. The facet of political power FDR used with his fireside chats, and that Ronald Reagen worked so well on televised adresses.
Of course, all of this is brought to mind by President Obama’s listless performance in the first Presidential debate of the 2012 election. As with most things in America, there is a racial element to this discussion. Being cool is not just something that looks good for African American men, it’s also been a vital, sometimes the only, survival strategy. Not expressing one’s true thoughts and supressing one’s rage is a vital survival ability when one does not have the power.
The problem in all this is that President Obama DOES have the power, but at times he fails to act like it. He’s playing it hard on his Sidney Poitier role, and neglecting his Jim Brown, Richard Roundtree, and Muhammed Ali roles. That is to say, he’s relying too hard on the image of a morally superior, long suffering, almost saintly enduring brother who wins by not fighting as opposed to fighting, or at least that is the persona he (tiredly) took in that past debate.
Bay Area radio D.J Davey D said Obama acted as if he “had no faith in his own humanity.” I thought that was one of the deepest statements I’d heard in some days. A black man in America under racist assumptions really can’t have much faith in his humanity, that if he gets mad or blows up, people can understand that in the context of human behavior, in all of it’s uglyness as well as it’s shiny sophistication. This leads to the middle class black attitude of acting better than in public, just to be seen as being “as good as.”
But if we’re in a post racial America (joke), a black man should be able to rain down praise and condemnation as he sees fit, especially if said black man won 52.9% of the vote in 2008. Sidney Poitier had a vast career, and President Obama needs to understand right now if he’s going to be tall, black, svelte and handsome like Mr. Poitier, it’s not only fitting to imitate the nun helping, “Amen” singing Poitier of “Lillies of the Field”, but also the Virgil Tibbs of “In the Heat of the Night”, who proclaimed, “They call me Mr. Tibbs.”
If this election is as important as he says it is, he’s got to transcend race and any fear he might have of how people would take him being assertive and go for what he knows. This might be exceedingly difficult for him because it would go against years of habits he cultivated for his own survival and success, as an outsider everywhere he’s gone. But every human heart burns for something. The cool can mask the sight of that fire, but not the heat, and the President’s got to turn up the heat. His supporters and his opponents both beg for it. Accessing that fire may be his chance at true greatness.
In the meantime in between time, lets hope he listens to this and bobs that cool head of his and get’s the message in the music: