American Morning

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April 27th, 2009
10:28 AM ET

Is Obama the first 'hip' president?

Author John Leland speaks to CNN's Alina Cho about President Obama being hip as a politician.
Author John Leland speaks to CNN's Alina Cho about President Obama being hip as a politician.

He sits courtside in all black, posts video on YouTube, goes on Leno, and he fought for the right to carry his Blackberry. But does that all make President Obama hip? And does it help the president politically?

John Leland is a reporter for the New York Times and wrote the book "Hip: The History." He joined Alina Cho on CNN’s “American Morning” Monday.

Alina Cho: You call President Obama the first hip president. You wrote, “He’s white and he’s black. He’s an elitist and he’s regular folk. He’s not pinned down to a perspective.” Why is being hip important? Why is it noteworthy?

John Leland: He is the first president certainly to make this question relevant. Is this guy hip or not? He looks good courtside as you say, looks good in all black. In my book, I talk about where this idea of hip comes from and it seems to come from these western African words hipi or hepi “to see” or “to open your eyes.”

Cho: How is he different from all the others?

Leland: Because he has his eyes open in ways the others do not. He has an awareness of different parts of American culture that we haven't seen from a president before.

Cho: It's one thing to be hip and another thing to be effective and powerful. How does this translate into good public policy or effectiveness?

Leland: Hipness should never drive our public policy. Hip won't get us out of our bank problems and it won't raise your kids. There are a lot of things hipness cannot do. But it can rally some public support.

Cho: In terms of public perception, it could change things for him, right? And that could rally support for public policy down the line? Could it not?

Leland: We get behind the hip guys. We like the nerd a little less.

Cho: I believe your newspaper, a few months back, did a piece about the president being out and about in Washington, he and the first lady going to restaurants, sitting courtside as a Wizards game. Is there a danger in having a president who is too accessible? I mean, he is still the president of the United States.

Leland: Do we get comfortable with him when we see him without his Superman outfit? Perhaps. But I think we're in a more casual time than that now.

What do you think? Is Obama the first "hip" president? Does it matter?

Filed under: Pop Culture
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. tejón

    JFK was another hip president. Teddy Roosevelt may have been. And yes, it's political gold, at least if "politics" is defined as "winning polls."

    May 15, 2009 at 3:58 pm |
  2. James

    he more than just hip or cool the way some said,i see him as a great president.I wouldnt use that kind of saying.he is a powerful president,regarded if some dont like it or not.he is doing a great job.he didnt point finger he didnt blame anyone for the mess.i wacthing a dodo bug when into a big pile of mess one day,he started from the bottom and worked up.but you got to have the right person for the job

    April 28, 2009 at 8:30 am |
  3. terry

    I don't care if our President is hip, cool, has 1 leg or is cross eyed!

    I just want a person in the White House who puts the American people 1st and does whats best for the United States and for our future generations. I am very disappointed at all the bail outs. I didn't vote for a rock star nor do I want one in the White House.

    April 27, 2009 at 3:50 pm |
  4. Angel

    Hell yes! He's all of that & a bag of fries! Most importantly he's broadly intelligent. More than I can say for other prezs. =-)

    April 27, 2009 at 11:36 am |
  5. Fred Robinson


    As long as the President keeps doing a good job which he is, he can do whatever is cool or hip, Beats the last guy who was there.

    If I see the man at Five Guys, the burger is on me.


    April 27, 2009 at 11:13 am |