Coolness Does Not a Proper President Make
April 12, 2016
Perhaps more than in any recent election, the candidates vying for the presidency in 2016 face immense pressure to appear cool. The national stage is not unlike a middle school cafeteria, in which to appear uncool in any way can be the kiss of death. On the Democrats’ side, Bernie Sanders is the agreed-upon cool kid. He flies coach, hangs out with Killer Mike and his accent reflects his hardscrabble upbringing in Brooklyn, arguably the capital of cool. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, seems to fall on the opposite end of the spectrum, squarely in the quartier of the uncool. Consider the viral video of Hillary Clinton entering the subway this past weekend. A simple 10-second delay in getting the card reader to accept her MetroCard has been decried as the ultimate gaffe, as all of Clinton’s minor missteps seem to be. MetroCard-gate is clear evidence, according to her critics, that Clinton is not a real New Yorker, nor is she at all in touch with the common people she claims to champion. She’s just not cool.
To college-age voters, Bernie Sanders’ appeal is undeniable, and one that can be easily understood. After all, he is advocating for a revolution at a time when voters young and old have grown tired of the political status-quo and the long list of unfulfilled goals and promises that come from mainstream politicians. Sanders has some really excellent policies and ideas and ought to be commended and admired for them. The problem arises not from Sanders himself, but from some distinct factions of his supporters. The so-called Bernie Bros, who express their support through an aggressive online presence that often targets and harasses Clinton supporters, epitomize the negative side of the unmitigated internet political discourse. Less overtly combative but insidious nonetheless is the vast collection of Sanders memes, many of which quickly verge into nasty, sexist critiques of Clinton, such as the widespread Bernie or Hillary? meme.
In contrast, most of Hillary Clinton’s outreach to young voters via her online presence and pop culture appearances tend to garner her heaping critiques and little praise. Whether it’s her cameo on Broad City or her campaign’s Snapchat account, Clinton is consistently criticized for trying too hard. This phenomenon is precisely why she is not viewed as cool — cool is effortless, like Sanders’s rumpled hair and endearing New York accent. Clinton, by her own admission, comes off far less charismatic than some of her male counterparts, even her own husband. Why, though, do so many insist on holding this against her? When did cool become the ultimate political currency?
While the elusive, mystifying cool factor will likely continue to confound politicians and voters alike, a larger degree of self-awareness must be in order. Even in our day-to-day lives, the quest for cool can be consuming — what we wear, what we post, what we say are all subject to the cool police. To go beyond the cool, beyond the superficial and the promises can be challenging in a society that is as image-obsessed as ours. With all that is at stake in this presidential election, we must shift our focus away from cool and back toward content and character.
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