Today is the final day of the Obama presidency. It seems like as good a time as ever to roast him. But first, the tan suit.
It was Easter Sunday in 2014 and President Barack Obama was photographed both entering and leaving church wearing a tan suit. To some, this was seen as the opposite of presidential — mainly by those who pride themselves in the heralded tradition of sartorial unexceptionalism — to others, the truest proof that our president was one of the flyest men the United States of America has ever seen.
Both camps were wrong. On this day, after six years in the White House, Barack Obama, husband of Michelle, father of Natasha and Malia, finally did something cool.
I say this, because Barack Obama is not cool.
You think Barack Obama is cool, because he’s cool for someone who is president of the United States. You think he’s cool, the same way it is said that black people are “cool.” That’s also not true, it’s just that the extraordinary black people you know of are often cool, compared to all the other people that you actually know, who are not.
This seems annoyingly contrarian, but trust me when I say I’m correct. This isn’t a theory, it is a fact. Yes, there is a corner of the internet dedicated to the coolness of Barack Obama — you’ve read it, you’ve shared it, you may have even helped add to it. Oh, how numerous are the lists and slideshows. You know the greatest hits, we all do. The mic drop. The jump shots. The fist bumps. Between Two Ferns and “Slow Jam the News.” The Spotify playlists.
These were all very cool things, timeless moments, and things that further made all of us, myself included, love Barack Obama. And they are moments that made his victory lap and this final day even more sobering, with the understanding that we’re never going to see this again.
But don’t get it wrong — even at their most candid, these are all productions, starring Barack Obama. The White House between 2008 and 2016 has been one of the greatest creative agencies in the history of the world. But the same way Nikes are simply Reeboks in the right hands, Barack Obama is just a really smart black dad that can be molded like clay to be anything he needs to be. Anything.
Some hard truths:
Barack Obama loves to dance, but Barack Obama cannot dance.
Barack Obama loves to sing, but Barack Obama cannot sing.
Basketball? Don’t even start with me.
The Barack Obama non-suit casual collection? God save the Republic.
Which brings us back to that magical moment with the Easter suit.
There is no collection of experts on this Earth that could make Barack Obama rock the Easter suit better than he did on that Sunday. For once, this was all Barack.
The ultimate proof of this was when he wore a tan suit a second time. You see, this was not cool. He looked basically the same, but it was not the same. This was “the Easter suit is a hit, do it again” — that unexpected No. 1 single, followed by a second song that tries to ride the wave by sounding exactly like the first.
He looked cool, but tan suit round two was just another reminder of my favorite truth: that Barack Obama is not cool.
This may sound like an unnecessary pile on in these terrifying final hours, but there’s actually a gigantic compliment hiding in this. Saying Barack Obama is “cool” diminishes all that he actually is. What’s true: Barack Obama is one of the most capable public figures that the United States has ever seen. In some ways, he is the greatest actor of the past eight years. He can bury himself in a role like Daniel Day-Lewis. He can orate and inspire like Martin Luther King Jr. He can ease a crowd with a laugh and a smile like Denzel Washington. He can nerd out like Neil deGrasse Tyson. And when he wants to, he can strut like Jeff Goldblum struts at the end of Independence Day.
He’s Harvey Dent — you know, before the gasoline.
He’s what we all want to be: good at everything. You’re warned throughout life of the risks of being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none, and the advice is sound. But then you see Obama, a true outlier — someone who is a master of all trades, the end. And in that, you briefly convince yourself that you were cheated out of a life path, that you could have been like Barack Obama if properly steered in that direction.
But you couldn’t. None of us could. Only Barack Obama would have come out on the other side of these eight years, not just in one piece, but still thought of as cool — or perhaps cooler.
Years ago, I sat in a room with him, as Air Force One began its descent into Selma, Alabama. It was a turbulent landing, with everyone seated in the room bouncing around while securing the items on the table so they didn’t slide off. One member of his detail clutched the president’s things, while another clutched the president. All while this is happening — a chaotic moment in my eyes — Barack Obama continued answering a question from New York Times columnist Charles Blow. While the rest of us looked like bobbleheads, Obama’s still body and unflappable concentration seemed to exist in a different plane. Not only did he continue answering the complex, multipart question, but when we landed — the unofficial moment for question time to end — he said he needed a few more minutes, because he wasn’t finished answering Blow.
So he finished. And then he walked out. And less than two hours later, he delivered a speech on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.
This sounds like yet another story clearly outlining how fly Barack Obama is, but it’s not. Because Barack Obama is not cool. Barack Obama is fucking remarkable.