My father was a unique character. I never met a man who was more set in his ways or more unwilling to change them, especially when it came to his looks. His one ill-advised attempt at updating his wardrobe — my mother’s really — was the purchase of an awful Nehru jacket sometime in the late 1960s. It just didn’t fit him; not in a sartorial manner, but because pandering to something so trivial as current fashion would have undermined his air of authority and diminished our trust in his rock-solid dependability.
I’ve always felt that there is something comforting in a man who disdains passing fads while I’ve never wholly trusted one who is a slave to fashion. This must have run in my family, because my youngest sister once said that Ronald Reagan — who, though a well-tailored movie star, never altered his appearance with the changing styles — always made her feel “safe.” Likewise, I instinctively mistrust anyone who has been tagged with the puerile sobriquet of “rock star”; a paean to cool and hipness that is truly a symbol of all that is wrong in America.
I suppose there is something to be said for hipness when you’re a teenager and peer pressure demands the need for such foolishness, but when your bank account is overdrawn or the IRS comes a’knockin’ at your door, who do you want to handle it? Do you want a bling-bedecked hipster or do you want a nerd with a pocket protector full of pens and pencils? Or when the bogeyman sneaks up on you in the middle of the night, is it a rock star you’d want to protect you?
George W. Bush, with his dreary vacations in Crawford, Texas and his penchant for being in bed by 10:00 PM, was the epitome of what was once known as “square,” but even the most ardent lefties were glad he was in charge during 9/11. It may have been the cool rock star who gave the order to kill Osama bin Laden in flashy, video-game style, but it was the slow, plodding and sometimes painful ways of the dull Bush that laid the groundwork.
Since the culture-busting days of the ’60s, our nation has been schizophrenic in its choice between style and substance, starting with the first paparazzi president, John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie; the first First Lady to assume the role of stylish trendsetter. Although JFK was far more credentialed than the current cool cat in the White House, many felt that his election was the product of marketing his attractive family background and his ruddy, New England good looks.
After JFK came the dreary career politician, Lyndon Johnson, followed by Richard Nixon, a man so square that when he appeared on Laugh-In during the 1968 presidential campaign, I’m pretty sure he didn’t even know what “Sock it to me” meant. Next came the enigmatic Jimmy Carter, with a personal style that was chock-full of corn yet whose policies were the stuff that liberal dreams are made of.
The two terms of Reagan brought to fruition a synthesis of elegance and gravitas which had probably not been seen since George Washington, and might never again grace the highest office of our land. He naturally attracted the “beautiful people” of Hollywood, yet they remained only on the fringes of his social life and had no bearing on his presidency, unlike the next rock star, Bill Clinton, the first “black president.”
Clinton, who followed on the heels of George H.W. Bush — so unhip that his nickname was “Poppy” –was the first president to use the cool and the hip to advance his career; famously using Hollywood producers to make videos for his campaigns. While Reagan actually was a movie star, Clinton merely played one in the White House.
Then came George W. Bush who, as I said, would never be mistaken for being hip, cool or in any way a rock star. Together with his wife, a down-to-earth schoolteacher who nonetheless carried herself with exceptional grace, he was about as exciting as white bread but was fundamental to the nation’s need for emotional stability and leadership at a time when this was desperately needed.
No, some men are just not destined to be “hip” nor is this spurious attribute one that voters should seek in a man who is to lead us out of our deadly moral and economic decline. We’ve danced and slow-jammed around our problems enough for the last four years. It is time for a square deal for America.