On Thursday, Mitt Romney proved the critics and naysayers wrong. Agree or disagree with the policy content of his speech, only the most hardened cynic would deny the heartfelt and genuine emotion that came through at critical moments. Once or twice, it looked like Romney was even choking up. The man who has been derided as starchy, a robot, or worse showed that he feels, and feels intensely when his family, community, or country is at stake.
But the hardened cynics are out there, and soon enough we’ll be hearing the same old tired refrain: “Romney is stiff. President Obama is cool.” How could you vote for stiff over cool?
Let’s concede for a moment that Romney is not, in fact, cool, and that President Obama is. Is being cool necessarily a good thing for a president?
President Obama has been cool about borrowing five trillion dollars (much of it from China) and driving up the deficit to almost unsustainable levels – and then covering up that recklessness with the sophistry that “we can’t worry short term about the deficit.”
President Obama has been cool about an effective unemployment rate that stands at 15%, throwing up countless obstacles to starting your own business and maintaining a climate of fear and uncertainty that paralyzes investment and job creation.
President Obama has been cool about saddling the economy with Obamacare, the largest entitlement program in almost half a century. As a result of Obamacare, which hasn’t even been fully implemented yet, premiums have gone up and lawsuit abuse remains uncurbed.
Allan Bloom made a very interesting argument about the concept of “cool” in his landmark bestseller The Closing of the American Mind.
If he doesn’t say this explicitly, I take responsibility for the interpretation. The concept of “cool” has a lot to do with existential philosophy, set forth most rigorously by Martin Heidegger and popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre. “Coolness” is cool in the face of the abyss, what Heidegger calls Being-towards-Death: Finding authenticity in the confrontation with meaninglessness by acknowledging that the only source of meaning is your authentic self.
Coolness is different from courage. Courage recognizes that it is there for faith, family, and freedom. Coolness is more indistinct. No one would say that the stranger in Camus’s book L’Etranger, who can’t find a convincing reason why taking a life is wrong, is courageous. But he is cool.
Cool, in other words, is a German and French concept. Despite deep roots in American art and entertainment, it is fundamentally a transplant and should not be a litmus test for the presidency. Given the choice between “cool” and “stiff” in 2012, I want stiff. Cool can go take a hike! If anything, I think “stiff” should be the new “cool.” I’ll take my lemonade with Mitt, and I’ll leave the big boy drinks for others.
Of course, the irony is that future President Romney’s speech was anything but stiff. It showed a man who cares, but is not promiscuous with his emotions. It showed a man with grace, and common sense, and dignity. This year, “cool” is just a distraction.