Thursday, July 5, 2012

Derecho isn't cool but what about Obama and Romney -- July 5, 2012 column

At last, Democrats, Republicans and independents agree on something.

Most people, regardless of their political leanings, believe the presidential election is annoying and it will be exhausting, the Pew Research Center reported this week.

Pew confirmed what the rest of us already suspected. Presidential campaigns are important but they last too long.

My guess is people are more interested in the split between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes than in the differences between Mitt Romney and, well, Mitt Romney.

Maybe it’s time to give the raging debate between Romney and himself a rest, even if it is rare to see a presidential candidate devote so much energy to refuting his own success. Romneycare, the health care plan Governor Romney brought to Massachusetts and the model for Obamacare, is working.

Summer has brought a new word to the national vocabulary and has given a makeover to another.

Many Americans on the East Coast learned last week that derecho means a catastrophic windstorm that will carry you straight back to the 19th century – and not in a good way.

The official definition says a weather event can be classified as a derecho, pronounced “deh-REY-cho,” if the wind damage swath extends more than 240 miles and includes gusts of at least 58 mph.

A “super derecho” swept across the Midwest and mid-Atlantic, bringing a line of severe thunderstorms and strong winds that felled thousands of trees, toppled countless power lines and plunged about 4.3 million electric customers into a hot and dark pre-plug Hades for days on end.

The term derecho was new to many in the mid-Atlantic but it’s been around for more than a century. In 1888, a professor at the University of Iowa, Gustavus Hinrichs, used it to describe severe thunderstorms that hit Iowa in July 1877. In case you’re wondering, derecho means direct or straight ahead in Spanish. Hinrichs taught modern languages before he taught the physical sciences. Those were the days.

That’s cool, you might say. But what would you mean? Cool, it turns out, isn’t what it once was. And that could have implications this election year.

“James Dean is no longer the epitome of cool,” says a University of Rochester Medical Center psychologist with the unlikely name of Ilan Dar-Nimrod.

To think of cool today, forget Miles Davis, he says. Forget being distant, tough, rebellious, and in-control emotionally.

Dar-Nimrod says he was the coolest kid on his block at 13 when he bought his first pair of sunglasses because the shades gave him distance and kept his emotions secret.

He led a study over several years and found the perception of cool has changed. The results, just published in the Journal of Individual Differences, found that among young people, it’s cool to be friendly and nice.

“The main thing is: Do I like this person? Is this person nice to people, attractive, confident and successful? That’s cool today, at least among young mainstream individuals,” he says.

Defining what’s cool today may seem frivolous, but consider this: If Dar-Nimrod is onto something, the new concept of cool could predict how the presidential candidates connect -- or don’t -- with younger, campaign-weary voters, especially independents.

Dar-Nimrod didn’t extrapolate to the current presidential race, and he conducted his research on young people in Vancouver, British Columbia, so it’s not clear how the findings square with young people here.

But we know that President Barack Obama is famously cool in the old sense: detached, non-emotional and remote. Romney, the golden retriever of candidates, is ever friendly, always trying to please, so much so that he flip-flops to win voters.

And then there’s the passion quotient. These days, Dar-Nimrod says, being passionate is considered cool. Obama has been criticized for losing the passion he showed in 2004 in his speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Ann Romney came out passionately for her husband this week, criticizing the Obama campaign. Is that the kind of intensity voters want in a first lady?

So who’s cooler – Obama or Romney? It’s up to the voters. We may not know until Nov. 6.

(Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. You may contact her at )

© 2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


1 comment:

  1. Well, I learned a lot about what is cool and about Obama and Romney and derecho and coolness. Just what I needed on a hot and lazy July day in the summer of 2012.

    I admire how Ms. Mercer was able to tie all these things together to make the story interesting, useful, and pertinent. Bravo, Ms. Mercer and thank you.