American Cool: Obama No, Jay-Z Yes

Photograph by Robert MacPherson/AFP via Getty Images

A poster-sized still from the 1969 road movie “Easy Rider” looms over museum-goers at a Feb. 5, 2014 press preview of the “American Cool” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington,DC.

President Barack Obama didn’t make the cut for the National Portrait Gallery’s “American Cool” exhibition, 100 curated photographs of some of the nation’s most intriguing people.

“We were considering Barack Obama,” said Joel Dinerstein, an American civilization professor and curator of the show, which celebrated its opening with a dance party this week in the museum courtyard.

“Campaign Obama was cool — the presidential Obama is not,” he said. “Once he became a tax and spend liberal, there is no way to recuperate his cool after that.”

Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton also were examined for coolness, he said, yet not included in the 100.

Obama can find some consolation in that his professed buddy, musical rapper Jay-Z, made the list, as did political activist and actress Susan Sarandon, and political funny man Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.”

Obama critic Clint Eastwood, film producer and actor, is featured at the gallery, as is the only business titan in the group, the late Steve Jobs, whose photograph pictures him roaring down a street on a motorcycle.

Icons of 1960’s political activism, Malcolm X and Angela Davis, are in the gallery, which is on display through September. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was left out, however, because “he’s a saint,” Dinerstein said. “Being cool has nothing to do with being good or virtuous.”

Guests didn’t seem to be surprised or miffed by the exclusion of Washington’s political class from the walls.

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Reps. Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, and Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, took a break Feb. 5 from whipping votes to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Horton’s Kids, a nonprofit that helps impoverished children in Washington’s Ward 8. A reception was held in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington.

In addition to their work for the charity, Hoyer said, the television drama “House of Cards” has brought the two closer together. On the show, Kevin Spacey plays a villainous congressman and the majority whip.

“Kevin Spacey spent time with both of us,” Hoyer said of the actor who portrays a murderous politician. “Kevin and I commiserate because we hope nobody thinks we kill people.”

Hoyer also joked that if they were allowed to knock people off, they might have an easier time getting things done.

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So you think you can dance?

 

That was the question Feb. 4 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, at the annual Alvin Ailey Opening Night Gala, which raised $777,000 for Washington dance students to attend the Ailey School in New York.

 

“I don’t know about ballroom dancing,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat, musing on his foot-work ability. “But I can still get by at weddings.”

 

Jeffries was joined by colleagues including Rep. Jim Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, and lobbyists such as Lyndon Boozer of AT&T, Joyce Brayboy of Goldman Sachs and Melissa Maxfield of Comcast, some of the major sponsors of the black-tie evening, with a performance and three-course meal.

 

“I’ve still got some moves left,” said Rep. William Clay, a Missouri Democrat, draping an arm around friend Gina Adams, a top lobbyist for Federal Express. She beamed.

 

Putting his money where his mouth is, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, took to the dance floor with wife Maya for the band’s version of “Moves Like Jagger.”

 

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