18 Dec 2016

Vogue Admires Obama’s Jeans

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He read Vogue.

Maya Singer has penned for Vogue the sixth of a twelve-part series celebrating the legacy of Barack Obama. This installment focuses on the hermeneutics of Obama’s “mom jeans.”

Picture Barack Obama and what comes to mind is an elegant man, immaculate in a suit, or Old Hollywood suave swanning into a gala in a tuxedo with Michelle on his arm. He’s a guy who comprehends the fit and flair of clothes. But he’s also a guy who wears mom jeans. What I’m trying to say is: The genius of Barack Obama is that he contains multitudes.

I’ve always liked listening to Obama’s press conferences. In that setting, taking questions on the fly, you can observe his mind working. He turns the queries over, inspecting each one for opportunities and traps, and then, crafting his replies, carefully considers every word. Each one. Words you hear a lot from Obama are “process” and “systematic” and “methodical”—and no matter what he’s talking about, those words have generally brought me comfort, for they reassure me that the ship of state is in a rigorous man’s hands. But Obama’s rigor has occasionally brought me frustration, too. There have been times I’ve wanted him to let loose, lose his cool, shout back at those people who have made it their mission to delegitimize and stymie him. And on policy grounds, too, I have wished at times that he’d chart a more radical course. But wishing isn’t the same as knowing what that would look like, or how or whether it would work. And that’s stuff I have no doubt Obama has thought through.

And not just thought through, but thought through in a particular way. Obama’s is a sympathetic rigor—warm and encompassing, rather than clinical. In a recent interview, Zadie Smith reportedly spoke about relating to Barack Obama not as a politician, but as a writer, and that statement clarified for me what I like about how he thinks. Obama governs the way the great humanist novelists of the 19th century wrote, drawing back to see the whole large canvas and the historical and structural forces converging on it at a particular time, then zooming in for close-ups on the people buffeted by those forces as they try, the best way each of them knows how, to lead meaningful, honorable lives. I imagine that Obama’s pragmatism is born out of his desire to soften the world’s blows for as many of those people as possible, knowing all the while that there are things even he, the most powerful man in the world, can’t in an instant change.

He sees big and he sees small. He sees compassionately, and in order to do that—in order to think like a novelist—you have to contain multitudes.

My own view is that nobody over 30 who is not engaged in real manual labor ought ever to be seen wearing blue jeans, the Mom variety or otherwise.

It is also, I think, alarming evidence of the dominanting influence of the LGBT subculture on the thinking of the community of fashion that the ironical appreciation of the dear leader’s transgressively unappealing denim trousers can be spun out into a grand encomium for his philosophy of governance. The sexually perverse have a penchant for irony and for the facile promotion of the insignificant and trivial to the plane of high cultural discourse.

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