Let Obama smoke cigarettes in the White House.

Scrutinizing culture.
Dec. 10 2008 6:17 PM

Give the Guy a Butt!

Let Obama smoke in the White House.

(Continued from Page 1)

Gotcha! Way to go T.B.! (Perhaps not the best initials here.) Savvy observers and addicts could spot Obama's evasiveness, which wouldn't survive a minute in a 12-step meeting.

Don't you love the ambiguity, the weasel-worded squirming? It's so human, it's endearing. All us sinners—of various habits and forms—loved Obama for it and loathed Brokaw, Walters, and the nation of scolds we have become in their collective attempt to shame the poor guy (yes, president-elect, I know, but here, just a poor, conniving backslider) into some self-scourging confession.

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You have to admire Obama's good nature as he puts up with these narrow-minded nannies (addicted to tobacco in their own perverse, negative way) and offers up this masterpiece of obfuscation.

Let's parse the statement. I like his assertion of greater healthiness as an excuse for this minor failing. Not gonna work, but it shows his desperation. Still, the key evasion is "you will not see any violations of those rules in the White House." (The italics are mine.)

Note that he doesn't say "outside the White House," leaving himself room to sneak a smoke in the privacy of the Rose Garden. And then, of course, there's the fact that a president doesn't spend all of his time "in the White House." He goes to Camp David, Europe, South Dakota, Iraq. Surely, there's a spot in one of those locales to sneak a puff or two undisturbed? With that phrase, "in the White House," Obama has his own "depends on what the meaning of the word is is." He's left himself a hole big enough for Richard Nixon to fit all of Watergate through or Bill Clinton to maneuver a strip club's worth of babes. Don't a few sneaky puffs seem innocent by comparison?

Obama—who, according to a wide array of sources, has smoked for years, but promised his wife, Michelle, that he'd quit in exchange for her help with his presidential campaign—has never said that smoking is good or healthy or that quitting is easy. Quite the opposite. He's made clear that quitting is a struggle and, like others who struggle with their demons, he's fallen off the wagon.

So what? This is probably the most sinless president we're likely to get in the foreseeable millennium, and yet he's already got the health Nazis on his tail. He's human, he's not on Mount Rushmore yet. (Although I kind of like the idea of a giant, granite Obama next to the Rushmore four, a stone cigarette dangling from his lips.)

In fact, I'd argue that Obama's smoking habit gives us another reason to like him: He's not a perfect paragon of the Whole Foods boho sensibility, comments about arugula notwithstanding. I'm told there are people who were surprised to learn he smoked, as if it was somehow shocking he didn't fit all the virtuous liberal-elite stereotypes. It would be refreshing (and not in that cool-menthol way) if he's more a democrat, less a virtue-crat.

I also wonder—and this will seem wildly heretical to virtue-crats, so hide the children—whether some of Obama's finer qualities aren't bound up in his alleged nicotine sins. That contemplative self-possession that so many admire him for. It might come from Obama's ability to sit back, inhale a puff or two, slow down and think—meditate, cogitate—before acting. Sure it's a trade-off. Lung cancer later in life: the percentage grows grim. But isn't it possible that, without the mediating thoughtfulness of a nicotine break, Obama would still be a "community organizer"? Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Look, people, we have what looks to be an incredibly thoughtful, long-view-taker as president, and maybe we owe it to cancer sticks. That's the tragedy of life. You don't get somethin' for nothin'. Maybe you don't get the Obama we think will make a great president without the devil weed. Maybe we owe him some cancer sticks if that's what he chooses. Because—and here I take the libertarian view—you choose your poison. He knows the stats and the risks. Maybe he makes a choice to have a butt or two despite the stats and the risks. Bill Clinton knew the odds and chose his butt or two with consequences that were arguably graver for the country as a whole. (By the way, you know who made the White House into a smoke-free zone? Hillary Clinton. We'd all be better off if Bill had thought "smoking hot" meant he was hot for smoking.)

If Obama were still a senator, a largely do-nothing job (at least if you consider senators' achievements), fine, take time, enroll in an anti-smoking program, white-knuckle it, whatever you decide: You have the leisure. But he's going to be president, with the fate of the nation, of the Earth, in his hands. Did George W. Bush make great decisions as a president while abstaining from alcohol? Maybe a sip of sherry or a cold brewski might have calmed him down enough to think twice about invading Iraq or deregulating the markets.

Look at all the great presidents we had during Prohibition: Harding, Coolidge, Hoover … Wow, makes you wonder if abstemiousness is to blame for turning out mediocre-to-disastrous louts in the Oval Office.

Come Jan. 20, Obama will be the president of a nation whose entire economic infrastructure is collapsing and who faces renewed tensions with a nuclear superpower. Such tensions could easily lead us to the nuclear brink. Is this the precise time we want our president to undergo the ordeal that giving up smoking represents?

 Give Obama a break ... a smoking break. No president has come into office facing the massive problems he does. And now he's got Chicago politics, like another monkey on his back, following him there. Let him enjoy a few contemplative moments as he works a problem. Let him have his down time. We'll probably be better off for it. So get off his case, all you holier-than-thou Puritans. I'm not advocating smoking for anyone else, and I think he should make a point of telling kids what a horror quitting is. But, meanwhile, cut the guy some slack. He's risking his health for you.

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