The Importance of Being Cool

Barack Obama’s temperament has been the subject of much analysis throughout his first 100 days on the job. On Saturday Night Live, there are recurring skits about Obama and how cool he seems to be. Throughout the primaries and in the campaign, Obama regularly displayed what used to be called “grace under pressure” during the Kennedy years. A close study of Obama shows a consistency of habit, a discipline and a general disposition to be reflective and not impulsive in moments of stress. His performance following the discovery of Reverend Wright’s diatribes against white America stand as sterling proof of his calm in the face of adversity. His ‘coolness’ has characterized the early stages of his presidency more than any other trait. But how important is it to be ‘cool’?

The president’s job is undoubtedly the most demanding and stressful in the world. Adversity, controversy, and conflict can occur at a moment’s notice. Approval ratings can change overnight. The president’s temperament becomes vital in these circumstances. History dictates that presidents who connect with their electorate do it because of their temperament and their likeability. Temperament can usually go a long way in reinforcing the likeability factor. I submit that the major reason for the positive report cards for the first 100 days has a lot to do with the fact that an increasing number like their new president, not so much because of his policies but mostly because they see a man of character and authenticity. They see this reflected in his temperament and they like it. Simple as that.

FDR, JFK, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton come to mind as presidents the American people liked even though they may have disagreed with their policies and their behaviour. Even when their approval ratings tumbled, their personal ratings stayed high. FDR had high unemployment during his first two terms and was strongly criticized for packing the Supreme Court to protect the constitutionality of his programs, but was easily reelected nonetheless. JFK failed at the Bay of Pigs and was put down by the Russian leader of the day at the Vienna Summit, yet his personal numbers increased. Reagan had the Iran -Contra scandal to contend with but left office a popular man. Clinton was impeached, lost control of both Houses, yet had approval ratings over 60 per cent at the end of his presidency. The voters genuinely liked these leaders. They appreciated their coolness under fire and consequently were able to distinguish between policy and personality.

As Obama begins the next 100 days, his job will not get any easier. He will try to pass the most expansive budget in history. Unemployment will continue to rise. The torture debate will most likely heat up. His Administration will be tested daily as it currently is with respect to the Swine flu outbreak. GM and Chrysler are not saved yet and foreclosures will continue. Pakistan will remain a powder keg, while Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to be  hotbeds of conflict. Obama’s coolness will be tested even more, and Republicans, angry at Arlen Spector’s defection, will be more aggressive than ever. And lest we forget the mid term election take place in 2010. Goodbye bipartisanship! What we seem to be seeing is a president who is personally liked and who has the temperament for the job; he’s cool. If Obama is able to maintain a respectable showing after the next 100 days, we will see how important cool really is.

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