After spending a week in the doghouse, US President Barack Obama decided it was to reaffirm his status as cool cat.
Not that Obama hasn’t already proved that he’s cool. The man’s sung Al Green, danced with Ellen and even put hip-hop star Kanye West in his place (twice). But every campaign knows that some portion of the electorate will vote for the candidate who is more likeable, the kind of person they could sit and have a beer with (the one trait of former president George W. Bush that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now seems intent on emulating). People want to be able to relate to politicians, to see their humor, to get a glimpse of their softer sides. Remember when candidate Bill Clinton played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show?
So when Obama joined Jimmy Fallon on late-night TV to “slow jam the news,” setting a policy speech on student loans to a smoldering beat, it took almost no time for the video to go viral, and key phrases from the jam such as #jimmyfallon, #SlowJamTheNews, The Preezy of the United Steezy and Barackness Monster, to trend on Twitter.
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Racking up nearly five million views in less than a week, the stunt was a coup for the Democrats. But the Republicans smelled blood, and the opportunity to return to one of their more effective themes from the 2008 race: that Barack Obama, flanked by his fake Greek columns and teleprompters, is merely a stadium-filling celebrity -- and that does not a good president make.
While the “Cool President” response from the American Crossroads Super PAC delivered a punch, it was actually not the first video response from the GOP. The first, entitled “A Tale of Two Leaders,” attempted, with far less flair, to cast the slow jam as ridiculous and inappropriate, offering the stern seriousness of presumptive Republican candidate Mitt Romney as the antidote.
The video closes with an urge to Tweeters to use the hashtag #NotFunny to break the wave of presidential cool. How successful was it? While the term “slow am” was mentioned 18,662 times and “Jimmy Fallon” 29,699 times the day after the video’s release, #NotFunny racked up only 2,632 mentions, according to Topsy.com. Given that the two GOP response videos garnered less than 500,000 views between the two of them -- a tenth of the slow jam itself -- that may not be surprising. People are more likely to share entertaining antics than a finger-wagging killjoy.
Even Romney understands that concept. Just a few weeks ago, the former Massachusetts governor when on the David Letterman show to (rather stiffly) deliver the top ten list: "Top Ten Things You Don't Know About Mitt Romney."
All that might explain the President’s choice to double down on cool. With the economic recovery slowing, a nasty secret service scandal in the media spotlight and the youth vote largely undecided, who wouldn’t prefer highlighting their suave charm on the cover of Rolling Stone, or trading comedic barbs with Jimmy Kimmel at the annual White House correspondent’s dinner?
With Newt Gingrich finally dropping out of the race, Ron Paul pushing 80, and Romney leading the GOP pack, Obama easily wins the cool competition. But cool, by itself, cannot win an election.
On the other hand, uncool doesn’t really help either.
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The writer is a Breaking News editor and blogger at The Jerusalem Post. Read his blog ‘The Bottom Line’ here.