Cool Does Win

Being cool was always cool. Hemingway was cool until he became a parody of himself. He defined courage as grace under pressure, and that’s the essence of cool, and more than anything Americans want to be cool. Say little and be awesome – no bragging, no whining, and when you pull it off, whatever it is, move on. Don’t spike the ball. Only jerks do that. Cool guys flip the football to the referee and trot back to the huddle – no big deal.

Yep, cool guys are one level up from the rest of us. Their excellence is innate to them. It’s just part of who they are – there’s no need to say anything about it, and in the late fifties Miles Davis got it right. Say nothing, turn your back on the audience, and play a hundred times better than anyone else. He was part of what they called the Birth of the Cool – a sudden cultural shift. In music it was that spare West Coast Sound that you either got or you didn’t. If you did, you hung around the Lighthouse Café down in Hermosa Beach. That sound was both cerebral and intense, and the modal improvising was startling, but one didn’t talk about it. There was nothing to say. A few years earlier James Dean was the same way in the movies – excruciatingly cool and of course unwilling to explain himself. There was no point, because you wouldn’t get it anyway, or else he was unable to explain himself because he really wasn’t all that bright, which only meant he was even cooler, somehow. The fifties really were the golden age of cool. Hugh Hefner sold it and Peter Gunn lived it on television every week, to a cool-jazz soundtrack played by the best studio musicians here in Hollywood, many of whom who had sat in with Miles, and sometimes Gerry Mulligan or Chet Baker, down at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach.

Those days are gone. Passion became the new cool – put it all out there – and celebrities and athletes became humorless hot and intense over-the-top screeching types, outraged or self-righteous, or both, and politicians are now the same. Show your passion, win the election. Quiet competence doesn’t grab people’s attention. Thoughtfulness is, well, kind of French, isn’t it? That’s what they said in 2004 about John Kerry – but we had a president who was hot and intense, the younger Bush, and then we elected No-Drama Obama, twice. He seemed cool, and smart, and careful – he wasn’t going to overreact and send us off to war again. He said he wasn’t against all wars, just dumb wars, and that was cool. Cool still mattered. It was reborn.

Cool was cool again, but some do like it hot, and those who like it hot got outvoted twice. McCain was hot about everything. Romney may not have been hot about anything, even if he tried to be, now and then – but no one believed his passion, no matter how many times he stuck out his firm jaw and narrowed his eyes and snarled out that he was a Severe Conservative. No one on the right believed it. If he were he wouldn’t have to say he was – but whatever he was, he was that other opposite of cool. He was hopelessly square, a word from the late fifties but appropriate. Romney seemed to have walked straight out of an old black-and-white episode of Father Knows Best, or he was the father, Ward Cleaver, in Leave it to Beaver – a nice fellow, but a bit clueless.

Barack Obama seemed to sense this and knew how to use his cool. It was almost as unfair as it was simple. Let your opponent get all hot and bothered and go nuts, and then raise one eyebrow. He did it to Mitt Romney with one line – “Proceed, Governor.” He did it to Hillary Clinton in 2008 when she went on a rant about his big fancy speeches. He smiled, made no comment at all, and kept giving the speeches. She seemed unhinged. He didn’t have to do a thing, and he did the same thing to John McCain in the general election that year – when McCain tried to cancel that one debate because he had decided to fly back to Washington to solve the financial crisis, all by himself. Cancel the debate? “You know, it’s a funny thing, but presidents often have to be able to deal with two things at the same time.” McCain had no response to that. He debated Obama, on schedule, and he didn’t fix the financial crisis. When McCain finally got to Washington he made things worse – he blew up the deal on TARP by getting all passionate and confusing his own party. It took a week to fix that, but there was no fixing McCain’s reputation as an angry old man who just doesn’t get it. Obama won easily. Obama knows how to play this game.

Ed Kilgore notes the latest instance of this:

It’s getting harder every day to recall that the Republican Party was actually competitive among Latino voters a decade ago. Now that it’s obvious the party has chosen to forsake any opportunity to return to those days and instead bow to the nativist impulses of the conservative “base,” the question is how much worse can it get? The marginally improved performance of the GOP among Latinos in the 2014 midterms probably tempted some to think disgruntlement with Obama would trump estrangement from the elephant party. But since then, of course, the president’s executive action on immigration provided fresh impetus to “deport ’em all” messaging, and the jockeying for position during the Invisible Primary for 2016 is not going to help.

That is something to look into, so someone did:

A new Latino Decisions analysis seeks to measure how perceptions of certain leading Republican proto-candidates for the presidency changed between the summer of 2013, when it first became clear House Republicans would block any action on comprehensive immigration reform, and November of 2014. They tested the two Cuban-American proto-candidates, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz; Jeb Bush, who has long-standing ties with Latinos and obviously benefits from his brother’s relatively positive reputation in that community; and Rand Paul, who’s made a lot of noise about GOP outreach to minority voters.

In 2013 Rubio and Cruz actually had net favorable approval/disapproval ratings among Latinos, but with very high “don’t know” numbers. The better-known Bush came in at 27/39, with Paul, also largely an unknown quantity, registering at a terrible 17/27. By November 2014, all four had net negative approval ratios, with Cruz and Rubio losing the most ground.

Again, this is all before the post-election conflict over the president’s latest executive action.

Now we get this:

We still have the better part of one year before the Iowa Caucuses and things can change, but it is very hard to imagine the potential GOP candidates moving towards a more moderate or pro-immigration reform position as they attempt to woo Republican primary voters. What exactly do they need to do? A Latino Decisions/ survey found that an overwhelming 89% of Latino voters supported the executive action for undocumented parents – including 76% of Latino Republicans; and likewise 80% of Latino voters said they are opposed to efforts to block or defund the executive action.

In direct contrast to Latino public opinion, recent efforts by the Republican majority in the House of Representatives points to a path consistent with the Mitt Romney approach. In December 2014 Republicans in the House voted to block Obama’s 2014 executive action for undocumented parents. In January 2015 Republicans in the House voted to cancel all funding for Obama’s executive action for undocumented parents. Others such as Ted Cruz have threatened to consider a government shutdown in an effort to block Obama’s executive action for undocumented parents. There are now 26 states where Republican Attorneys General or Governors have signed on to a lawsuit attempting to stop the executive action for undocumented parents, and most recently Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner has announced his party plans to sue Obama in an effort to stop the President’s plan to protect undocumented parents from deportation. Despite their own warnings in a GOP published “honest review of the 2012 election cycle” the statements, votes and lawsuits promoted by Republicans run entirely counter to the advice they gave themselves.

Kevin Drum comments on how this is simply what Obama does:

In the same way that, say, Osama bin Laden wanted two things on 9/11 – to attack the US and to provoke an insane counter reaction – President Obama wanted to accomplish two things with his immigration actions. Obviously he thought it was the right thing to do. Beyond that, though, he wanted to gain Latino support for Democrats and provoke an insane counter reaction from Republicans. He succeeded brilliantly on both counts. Republicans fell swiftly into his trap, and they show all signs of falling even further as primary season heats up. By the time 2016 rolls around, even a moderate guy like Jeb Bush is going to be so tainted by Republican craziness on immigration that he’ll get virtually no support from the Latino community.

It didn’t have to be this way. Republicans could have responded in a more measured way that would have blunted Obama’s actions. Instead they let themselves get suckered. Obama must be laughing his ass off right about now.

No, that wouldn’t be cool. A slight smile is more likely. Their passion unhinged them. Cool always works.

But they are passionate. They hate Obamacare, and say that everyone does, and now that the Supreme Court might kill it over a few obscure ambiguous words in the law that aren’t quite clear, they say they have a brilliant alternative – give responsibility for Medicaid to the states with a sort of “block grant” – money they can spend any way they want, even on new sports stadiums if they want, because this is a states’ rights issue, and a shift from exchange-based purchasing subsidies to a smaller and less available federal tax credit. The thought there is that people don’t want the money to buy health insurance, they want lower taxes. Those who don’t earn enough to pay any income tax will be left out – their taxes can’t get any lower of course, because they don’t earn enough to pay any – but no matter. This is a winner. The Republican plan would lower taxes. Everyone loves that – and there’s also the open question, for now, of the return to state-based insurance regulation. That would lower costs. Some state, two states over, might not have any regulations about fraud or price-gouging or standards of coverage, so what they sell there will be cheap, and if everyone in every state can buy that insurance across state lines, the cost of insurance will plummet, as will healthcare costs in general. What’s not to like?

Ed Kilgore notes this:

States could keep or discard the Obamacare provision allowing children to stay on their parents’ policies until the age of 26. They could also decide to let insurers discriminate more or less against old folks than a national standard of a five-to-one ratio as compared to young people (under Obamacare it is three-to-one with no state power to vary it)

And there’s another part of this:

Their plan includes a potentially explosive proposal: Workers would have to pay federal income tax on the value of employer-provided health benefits that exceed certain annual thresholds – $12,000 for individuals and $30,000 for families. Health benefits above those levels would be treated and taxed as regular income for the employee. The thresholds would increase over time.

Employers could still take tax deductions for the cost of employee health benefits as an incentive to continue providing coverage, Republicans said.

Corporations would get a break. Workers would be slammed. It’s a matter of priorities, a matter of who matters, and there’s no “formal estimate of the cost of their proposal or the number of people who would be covered.” That might indicate that these ideas won’t provide coverage to the millions who now have it under Obamacare, and won’t match the cost savings the law has been delivering for the last few years, either to taxpayers or to individuals buying insurance, so they’ll get to that later – maybe. As for now, part of the plan is eliminating childbirth and maternity benefits – as those are really not “essential benefits” at all. People choose to have children, so that’s a choice, not a healthcare issue. Pay for it yourself. Choose differently if that’s too expensive for you.

So that’s the alternative to Obamacare. Sahil Kapur at Talking Points Memo reviews the Twenty Times GOP Leaders Have Promised Their Own Obamacare Replacement Plan – and this is it, finally. Obama may not be laughing his ass off, but he might be. All he has to do is let them get passionate and get crazy – and they’ll implode. It works every time – “Proceed, gentlemen.” They did. They never learn.

Our Republicans fall for it every time, and back in 2008 Hillary Clinton did, and lost the nomination, but of course no foreign leader would make the mistake of playing the passionate crazy guy to the cool guy who simply waits for the other party to get stupid. On the international stage it’s the cool versus the cool. The stakes are too high for nonsense, or maybe not:

Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein rushed to meetings on Capitol Hill on Wednesday trying to calm a furor created by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech to Congress next month and quell a Democratic revolt that has dozens threatening a boycott.

It didn’t work.

If anything, Democrats finished the day more frustrated. According to a source in the room, one Jewish Democratic member of Congress even accused Dermer of being insincere when he claimed not to have anticipated the partisan uproar he’d ignite when he skirted protocol and went around the White House and scheduled the speech only with House Speaker John Boehner.

Being insincere is sometimes known as lying, and the White House is offering a cool shrug to all of this:

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, meanwhile, dangled the possibility that the White House would have Vice President Joe Biden skip the speech in what the West Wing acknowledges would be a serious snub. …

Biden has to date missed only one speech by a foreign leader at a joint session of Congress, Earnest said. The vice president really likes his ceremonial duties, he added, but might be busy on March 3, when Netanyahu is scheduled to deliver his warning to Congress about U.S. negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The Obama administration considers the talks an important diplomatic opening that could lead to the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu believes Iran has no intention of holding to any deal and U.S. diplomats are being naive.

Hey, Biden might be busy. Was Bibi going to say something? That’s cool. Send a transcript. We’ll get to it, maybe.

Someone did, however, lose their cool, and there’s a price to pay for that:

Dermer and Edelstein running around the Hill on Wednesday are “symptomatic of what’s happened as a result of the speaker’s invitation and the prime minister’s acceptance of this speech,” said Martin Indyk, a former ambassador to Israel under Bill Clinton.

“It’s going to get worse, because Democrats, whether it’s Jewish Democratic congressmen, or Jewish voters for the Democratic Party – which is the majority of American Jewish voters … nobody wants to be put in the position of taking sides,” Indyk said. “Democrats who are supporters of Israel don’t want to have to choose between supporting Israel and supporting their president.”

That is a problem:

Seven Jewish Democratic members of Congress who met Wednesday in Rep. Steve Israel’s (D-N.Y.) office… lit into Dermer. The invitation, they said, was making them choose between Netanyahu and Obama, making support for Israel into a partisan issue that they never wanted it to be, and forcing them to consider a boycott of the speech. One member, according to someone in the room, went so far as to tell Dermer it was hard to believe him when he said he didn’t realize the partisan mess he was making by going around Obama to get Boehner to make the invitation.

Yeah, that is hard to believe, and Kevin Drum takes it from there:

This has been a surprisingly slow-burning fuse. Obviously this mess puts a lot of Democrats in a tough position, but I still would have figured that they’d make their displeasure known sooner rather than later. And yet, for the week or so after Netanyahu announced his speech, we barely heard a peep of protest – even privately. But apparently Democratic anger was growing the whole time, and now Netanyahu has a full-grown public insurgency on his hands.

It’s been obvious for years – obvious to me, anyway – that Netanyahu has decided to tie his future to the Republican Party. Of course Dermer knew the speech would create a partisan mess. That was more a feature than a bug. But now it looks like Netanyahu has finally gone a step too far. After years of putting up with Netanyahu’s partisan antics, Democrats are finally getting tired of them. This episode is unlikely to end well for Israel.

Yep, Obama did it again – the cool wins – and some background helps:

Dermer, an American-born political strategist, earned the nickname “Bibi’s brain” during the years he spent as Netanyahu’s senior government adviser and speechwriter in Jerusalem. In Washington, he’s become Bibi’s id. …

Dermer began his career working for Republicans in Washington. In 1993 he was an assistant to pollster Frank Luntz, his former University of Pennsylvania professor. At the time, Luntz was helping Newt Gingrich craft his Contract with America, the strategy that led to a Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. Luntz was also responsible for Dermer’s move to Jerusalem: He suggested that his assistant, whose mother was born in Israel, go work for Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who was then beginning his political career in Israel.

Since 2000, when he went to work for Netanyahu, Dermer has been a natural bridge between the conservative Israeli leader and his Republican counterparts in Washington—a figure who speaks the political language of both sides with ease. “Ron’s seen as the consigliere supremo to the prime minister,” says Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk, who’s led the congressional push for new Iran sanctions.

Obama must have known he was dealing with just another domestic Republican, who would eventually do something stupid – they always do – and this one decided to tell the pro-Israel Democrats in Congress they had to choose between Netanyahu and Obama, one or the other, and if they chose Obama, everyone would know they hated Israel.

That didn’t go well. How could it go well? Obama let it play out. Miles Davis would tell you the “cool” is in the notes you don’t play – but then he wouldn’t tell you that, really. He didn’t talk much. You know or you don’t know. Some people never know.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to Cool Does Win

  1. Rick says:

    Hugh Hefner sold “cool”? That perennial dirty old man who holds the Guinness World Record for the Longest a Lounge-Lizard Pimp goes without Changing Out of his Pajamas?

    If so, that really gives cool a bad name.

    But I’m not a big fan of “cool” anyway. I think most of what passes for “cool” is pretentious. Yes, I like Chet Baker’s horn playing, but I just never thought of it as “cool” — I just like the airy sound of a trumpet. I find it soothing.

    I also tend to think Obama does things because he thinks they’re the right thing to do, period, and only sees Republicans being embarrassed by opposing him on these things as a secondary bi-product, rather than being any major part of his motive for doing this stuff. But maybe I’m giving him too much credit.

    Or else, assuming he’s actually playing it “cool” (with “cool” being a good thing), maybe I’m not giving him enough credit. Whatever. Especially now that he’s found his stride, I only wish I could vote for him for a third time.


  2. Jenny says:

    Certainly feeling more cheerful than I felt after reading your essay yesterday.

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